Almost Everything You Wanted To Know About Birdseed

Second of a Series—Sunflower Seeds

If you’re just starting out trying to attract wild birds to your backyard, a significant challenge is: what type of food should you buy? Just like your picky nephew who only eats hot dogs, your new bird guests have strong dietary preferences.doug-swinson-267836-unsplash

Let’s take a look at the seeds that are generally available for wild birds:

Black-Oil Sunflower Seed

Sunflower seeds provide the nutrients birds need, including fat, fiber, protein, and vitamins C and E.

Black-oil sunflower seeds have been shown to attract the greatest variety of bird species to your yard, including—

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Experts recommend that you load black-oil sunflower seeds in a hopper or tube-type bird feeder.

Hulled Sunflower Seed

All the best of black-oil sunflower seeds, but without the debris. All sunflower seeds come from the same plant, Helianthus annus, so hulled sunflower seeds have the same nutritional value as black-oil sunflower seeds.

You’ll attract the same long list of birds as with black-oil sunflower seeds.

Often sold as “hearts” or “chips”, hulled sunflower seeds have the shell already removed so the bird doesn’t have to peck through it. The advantage is smaller birds with weaker beaks can eat them. And there’s no mess of empty shells left behind that can interfere with any plants growing beneath the feeder.

Another advantage of hulled sunflower seeds over black-oil sunflower seeds is that there is no wasted energy for the bird removing the shell, which is a concern especially during winter feeding.

The greatest perceived disadvantage of hulled sunflower seeds is their price . . .  they are often more expensive than seeds in the shell because of the labor necessary to remove the hulls. But, remember, birdseed is typically sold by weight. So, with hulled sunflower seeds, you’re not paying for the weight of the shell which won’t be eaten. You can do the math, but the cost difference might not be as much as it looks on the shelf.

In our experience the greatest disadvantage to hulled sunflower seeds is that, since there are no shells, the seeds’ surface is more oily, so the seeds can spoil more quickly than shelled seeds. They should be protected from moisture. And be aware that heat can also hasten spoilage.

Our choice is tube feeders with large feeding ports because our backyard is popular with squirrels and some larger, more aggressive, more ravenous bird species. (In our yard, we’re talking about, grackles.)

Striped Sunflower Seed

Most birds will flock to black-oil sunflower seeds long before they even look at striped sunflower seeds, but the striped sunflower seeds are cheaper and do provide essential nutrients.

The shell is harder than black-oil sunflower seeds, so it is more difficult for small birds to open.

You can expect blue jays, cardinals, and some varieties of woodpeckers to feed on striped sunflower seeds.

It’s been suggested to us to put some striped sunflower seeds on a platform feeder in another area of our yard to discourage the squirrels from trying to raid our other bird feeders. We’re still resisting the idea of what will essentially amount to a squirrel feeder that will encourage the annoying critters to come into our yard in even greater numbers than they do now.


Next we’ll look at safflower, nyjer (thistle seed), corn, millet, premium mixes, economy mixes, and suet.

© 2018, Sawyer Creative LLC

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