Can Birds Eat Sunflower Seeds? A Guide to Feeding Your Feathered Friends

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Sunflowers are beautiful flowers to grow in your garden and a favorite flower for many. But are the seeds a good food for birds? Can birds eat sunflower seeds, do they like them, and is it a good idea for them to do so? Read on to find the answers to these questions, and delve deeper into this topic.

Are Sunflower Seeds Safe for Birds to Eat?

Sunflower seeds are perfectly safe for birds to eat, and it won’t hurt to place some for the birds in your garden to consume. Many birds naturally eat sunflower seeds from the flowers in agricultural fields, gardens, and in the wild.

Birds will also commonly eat seeds left out for them in garden bird feeders or at a bird table. Sunflowers are often included in bird feed mixes for seed-eating birds.

Are Sunflower Seeds Good for Birds?

Sunflowers Seeds are safe for birds to consume and can be very good for them. Sunflower seeds are a nutritious food for many garden birds. Many birds will benefit from them if you leave flowers in your garden and allow birds access to the seeds or add the seeds to a platform bird feeder.

The inner kernel within the seeds is a good source of many essential nutrients required by birds for good health. And many bird species can break through the outer coating or shell to access the goodness within.

What are the health benefits of sunflowers seeds for birds?

For seed-eating birds, sunflower seeds provide a source of protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. When added as part of a healthy bird diet, they can provide nutrients that they need for optimal health. The reasons that sunflowers seeds are a healthy snack for us also make them a healthy snack for backyard birds.

Which Birds Eat Sunflower Seeds?

Many birds eat sunflower seeds, making them an excellent choice for gardens or bird feeders. They will attract and help sustain a wide range of bird species in your space.

Some birds that eat sunflower seeds include:

  • Blackbirds
  • Chickadees
  • Finches
  • Gray catbirds
  • Grosbeaks
  • Jays
  • Northern cardinals
  • Nuthatches
  • Pine siskins

Many other birds will certainly eat these seeds, so this is just a partial list.

Black oil sunflower seeds are great for many songbirds, while larger, striped sunflower seeds are great for larger birds with strong beaks. Hulled sunflowers are also suitable for smaller birds or those with softer beaks because they are easier for them to eat.

How to Provide Sunflower Seeds for Birds in Your Garden

Can Birds Eat Sunflower Seeds

There are two main approaches to adopt if you want to provide sunflower seeds for the birds in your garden.

The first way is to grow sunflowers in your space. Sunflowers can be very useful in our gardens in various ways for us, other wildlife, and birds.

Annual sunflowers grow well in a sunny location with fertile, moist, yet reasonably free-draining soil. There are several different sunflowers, from giant sunflowers to much smaller dwarf sunflowers. Many grow just a single flowering head on each plant, while there are also multiple-flowered cultivars to consider.

Sunflowers look good in ornamental beds and borders. But, they can also be a great addition to vegetable beds in a kitchen garden, where they make great companion plants. If you leave sunflowers to mature, seeds should naturally form toward the end of the growing season. And if you leave these in place, seed-eating birds will be able to help themselves.

The second option, whether or not you grow sunflowers yourself, is to purchase sunflower seeds to feed to birds by placing them on a bird table, in a platform feeder, or in a bird feeder like a cage, basket, or tube feeder in your backyard.

Which Sunflower Seeds To Use

How and which kinds of sunflower seeds you serve will determine the bird species you will attract to your garden.

Two main types of sunflower seeds are used to feed the birds. There are black sunflower seeds and striped sunflower seeds. Both come from the annual sunflower Helianthus annuus.

The difference is mainly in the appearance, and many birds like both. But carefully choosing can allow you to make sure that you provide a healthy food source for different types of birds in your garden.

Black oil sunflower seeds are great for many songbirds, while larger, striped seeds are great for larger birds with stronger bills.

It is best to leave out a variety of seeds and seeds in different forms to cater to as wide a range of garden birds as possible. 

Can Birds Eat Raw Sunflower Seeds Whole?

Even larger seed-eating birds don’t eat whole sunflower seeds since they want to extract the inner kernel. They do not eat the hard outer coating or seed shell. But you can provide the raw seeds whole since, as mentioned, many birds can break through this outer coating without trouble.

Should You Hull the Seeds?

Hulled sunflowers are suitable for smaller birds because they are easier to eat. Supplying hulled sunflower seeds will allow you to attract smaller seed-eating birds that cannot easily break through the seeds’ outer shell or outer coating.

As mentioned above, many birds can break through unshelled sunflower seeds to get to the goodness within. But providing hulled seeds will allow you to cater to a broader range of birds since they won’t have to break through the coating to get to sunflower seed hearts. 

You can shell these yourself or buy pre-shelled sunflower seeds to feed. 

Should Sunflower Seeds be Soaked or Crushed?

Sunflower seeds do not usually have to be soaked or crushed. But doing so may make this food source available for a wider range of smaller, less strong-billed birds.

Can Birds Eat Roasted Sunflower Seeds?

While raw seeds are best, birds can also eat roasted sunflower seeds without ill effects. However, when we speak of roasted sunflower seeds, note that we are talking about seeds roasted without salt or other additives.

What About Salted Sunflower Seeds?

Roasted and salted sunflower seeds that contain other ingredients such as preservatives may be sold for human consumption. But these absolutely cannot be fed to garden birds.

High sodium and preservatives may be deadly to the birds that feed on them. A relatively low salt content for us would be far too high for tiny birds. And other ingredients in processed human foods can also be very dangerous to backyard birds or wild bird species.

Can I Leave Moldy Sunflower Seeds Out For Birds?

While you can and should feed sunflower seeds to birds, you should never leave out seeds that are old, moldy, or beginning to decay. These will pose a health threat to the birds that you are trying to aid.

Can Birds Have Sunflower Oil?

Leftovers containing sunflower oil won’t typically harm birds. But be aware of salt, sugar, and other ingredients that might be harmful, or which should only ever be provided to most birds in smaller quantities.

Take care not to leave out anything oily or sticky which could impede the birds’ flight when it gets onto their feathers, or which may cause them to slip or get stuck.

So, add black sunflower seeds, striped sunflower seeds, or hulled sunflower seeds to garden bird feeders, or simply plant sunflowers in your garden and let them go to seed, and a wide variety of birds will certainly benefit.

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Elizabeth Waddington

Elizabeth Waddington is a conservation, rewilding, organic gardening and sustainability specialist who loves everything nature-related. She loves helping others around the world connect with the wildlife and wonders around them. When not creating wildlife-wise, eco-friendly designs, or writing about the topics that inspire her, she loves spending time watching the birds on and around her own rural property, or heading out on camping or hiking adventures to spot birds and other wildlife in a range of habitats.