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How to Use Sunflower Seeds to Attract Birds to your Backyard
Sunflower seed is by far the most preferred seed type to feed backyard birds across the United States.
There are many birds that love sunflower seeds and the most common birds could be flying around your backyard right now looking for a snack!
Some Common Backyard Birds Attracted By Sunflower Seed:
- American Goldfinch
- Black-Capped Chickadee
- Black-Crested Titmouse
- Blue Jay
- Carolina Chickadee
- Downy Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- House Finch
- House Sparrow
- Northern Cardinal
- Purple Finch
- Steller’s Jay
- Tufted Titmouse
- Western-Scrub Jay
- White-Breasted Nuthatch
Hulled or Unhulled – Which is Best?
Both shelled and unshelled sunflower seeds attract birds, and there are many pros and cons to both sides.
Shelled – Many birds can easily separate the hull and seed, but some birds have beaks that are too thin to break open the hard outer shell of the sunflower seed. This causes hulled sunflower seed to attract approximately 20% more birds than the unshelled seed. Also, when the shells of the unhulled sunflower seed drops to the ground, it will make a larger mess, so if you have your bird feeders in an area that you like to keep clean, hulled sunflower seeds are your best option.
Unshelled – On the other hand, if you have your feeders above a grassy or unplanted area, any uneaten, unshelled sunflower seeds may fall to the ground and grow new sunflower plant that provide protection and free seed for the birds. If this is your intention, pick the healthiest looking seedlings and thin the rest so the seedlings you chose are approximately a foot apart. Another upside to using unshelled sunflower seeds is that they don’t spoil as quickly as hulled seeds from lack of the protection of a shell.
What is the Best Way to Serve Sunflower Seeds?
Sunflower seeds can essentially be served in nearly any type of feeder (platform, tray, tube, hopper, etc.). Many birds will also eat sunflower seed suet, so that is also an option. Place your feeder in a bushy tree that provides a good amount of protection but still allows you to see the birds come and go. Find a location where you can easily relax and watch the birds such as outside your window or near your porch or patio. If squirrels are a problem, purchase a feeder with a squirrel baffle or a squirrel-proof caged feeder.
Growing Your Own Sunflower Seeds
Instead of paying inflated store prices, you can grow your own sunflower seed to feed the birds. There are many different varieties that you can grow, but try to choose one (or ones) that produce large or abundant seed.
- Mammoth Grey Striped
- American Giant Hybrid
- Mammoth Russian
- Black Oil (though not commonly sold for growing, you can just take some from your birdseed)
Where is the Best Location to Plant Sunflowers? You can either start your seedlings inside in peat pots 2 weeks before the last frost, or direct plant them outside in early to late spring after the danger of frost has passed. Pick a location where the sunflower plants will get at least 8 hours of sun.
How to Prepare the Soil for Sunflowers – If your soil is already amended with compost or organic fertilizer you can plant right away. If your soil needs nutrients, use these tips:
- About a month before planting, fertilize 2 feet deep or fertilize about a half foot deep and mound about a foot and a half of soil on top (the latter is easier and more time effective).
- OPTIONAL: Mix in (per square yard) about a tablespoon of ash, a tablespoon of kelp, some fish emulsion, and any compostable kitchen scraps (egg shells, coffee filters, vegetables, etc.). Adding these extra ingredients is optional but helpful. Exclude any non-compostable items (meats, cheeses, dairy products, plastics, etc.). Make sure that all the materials are well mixed, then wet it down with water.
How to Plant Sunflowers – If you added organic fertilizer and other amendments, the the sunflower beds should be ready to plant in. Wet it down so it is moist, and plant the sunflowers approximately 1-2 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart. When the second set of leaves appear (in about 2 weeks) thin to 2 feet apart.
How to Care for Your Sunflowers – Though most sunflower types are heat and drought tolerant, it is still good to water them regularly. Warning: be careful not to water them too much. Sunflowers do not need fertilizing, but phosphorous rich fertilizer such as kelp, ash, and fish emulsion can benefit the growth of the sunflower plants. Be careful not to add additional nitrogen-rich fertilizer to your soil. Excess nitrogen can delay flowering and concentrate the plant’s energy towards the stem and leaves instead of the flower head and seeds. Sufficient amounts of nitrogen are already present in well-balanced compost.
How to Harvest Sunflowers – When the seeds begin to dry up, you can either cut the head off and hang it in a tree, or pick the seeds out yourself and serve them in your feeder. You can also save a few seeds to plant more sunflowers next year without having to go buy seed at the store.
This guide gives you everything you need to know to supply your backyard birds with delicious, nutritious and satisfying sunflower seeds!