When I started out feeding garden birds, I wasn’t keen on spending a lot of money on seed if it was going to be wasted. I wanted this to be a success but the burning question was – which bird food attracts the most birds? I had heard a lot about sunflower seeds but which garden birds even eat sunflower seeds?
Well, a few years of bird feeding has shown, for me at least, that not many garden birds eat sunflower seeds. The type of garden birds that like sunflower seeds usually include finches, sparrows, nuthatches and tits. However, I have used many different types of bird seed, including sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, peanuts, suet mixtures and niger. In my back garden the sunflower seeds have not been a success… ever!
Actually, I lied. Sunflower seeds have been very successful in my garden – when I planted them for my daughters’ school project. The sunflower seeds found in my cheap bird seed mix grew better than any others!
What is The Best Sunflower Seed For Birds?
I am not saying that sunflower seeds are a complete failure when it comes to bird feeding. I have just seen other types of food proving to be way more popular on my feeders. This is also a common theme in some online birding forums.
Of course, my experience with sunflower seeds could be down to the fact I have not paid out a lot of money on better quality seed. Admittedly I started out with the cheaper variety from a well known budget store.
I am tempted to give them another shot this autumn and winter so I have done some research to find out which sunflower seeds are best for the garden birds.
Types of Sunflower Seed
There are three types of sunflower seed widely available. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages; for both the birds and for us.
Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
More Calories – These are the most common and more widely recognised sunflower seeds. They have a higher oil content and provide more calories per seed. This makes them a good choice through the winter months.
Easier to Eat – These seeds have thinner shells and are easier for most birds to crack open. If you have any success with these in your feeders it is likely to be the finches and tits that take them. It is likely they’ll be rejected in favour of other, more tempting options if available, e.g. sunflower hearts.
Messy – The big, big issue with black sunflower seeds is the mess that is left behind. Birds do not eat the shells and they are usually left all over the ground below the feeder. They can be difficult and a pain to continually clean away. They also attract rats and squirrels. How To Stop Attracting Rats To Bird Feeders.
Striped Sunflower Seeds
A Little More Pricey – The striped sunflower seeds are the type that we can also eat, as part of our healthy and balanced diet. As they are also consumed by humans they can be a little more expensive compared to the black oil seeds.
Tougher Shells – They are slightly larger than black oil seeds and have harder shells, which means certain birds may not be able to crack them open. Handy if you want to eliminate certain birds that are dominating a feeder.
Less Oil – They are not as oil rich but are still a good quality food for garden birds.
Messy – Just like the black oil sunflower seeds, the striped sunflower seed has a shell. Anything with a shell will generate mess under the feeder.
Hulled Sunflower Seeds (sunflower hearts)
The Seed of Choice – By far these are a firm favourite of most garden birds that visit my hanging feeders. Sunflower hearts are generally of good quality and are easy to eat.
More Expensive – Because they have the shells removed after harvesting there are more costs involved. Therefore, they are generally more expensive.
Easier to Eat – sunflower hearts are by far easier for a bird to eat. They make feeding way more efficient, especially when a bird is trying to conserve energy through the winter.
No Mess – no shells means non mess. Sure, there may be some seed that falls to the ground but there certainly won’t be piles of discarded shell to clean away.
Do Squirrels Eat Sunflower Hearts?
Does a bear s*** in the woods? Squirrels will hunt down your sunflower hearts and gorge themselves silly, just like a child with chocolate at Christmas! This is one of the drawbacks of using sunflower hearts in my garden. I do not want to encourage squirrels at my feeder and I certainly do not want to spend my money on feeding them.
I recommend you use a squirrel baffle, like this one on Amazon, or a squirrel-proof bird feeder, if you want to put out sunflower hearts for the birds. They are not that expensive, depending on which you choose and where you buy. See a range of squirrel-proof feeders on Amazon.
There is also the option of using chilli powder or cayenne pepper in bird seed. The spicy heat will often deter a squirrel from eating the seed. It is not harmful to birds and should only be a short term issue for a squirrel. Learn more here – Using Cayenne Pepper In Bird Seed
What Bird Food Attracts The Most Birds?
Rather than simply duplicating other information on the internet here, I would prefer to give you the results of my experience. Not everything works for everyone. You may have different bird visitors in your garden to me. This is what I know…
By far and wide, the best bird food for attracting birds in my garden has been sunflower hearts and suet or fat mixed with seed. For goldfinches it has to be niger seed.
Out of everything I have ever used, the sunflower hearts are what I have to replace most often. I have seen the sunflower heart feeders at our friend’s house swarming with birds throughout the day. It is really quite crazy how similar they look to piranha fish on a feeder. Albeit they have a lot of sparrows in the garden but plenty of tits too – what a sight!
I am lucky to have seen not only robins and tits but bullfinches and green finches on the sunflower hearts too. They are not frequent visitors but it goes to show how good quality, popular seed attracts greater variety of bird.
The other thing that gets the birds going in my garden is the pre-filled coconut shell feeders. To be honest, any type of suet/ fat-based mix that I make myself goes down a storm. The only issue I have found is they tend to attract magpies and starlings a bit too much.
We never have sparrows or starlings in our garden but last winter, as soon as the fat feeders went out the starlings appeared. Odd they never visit at any other time. The birds that get the most out of them are robins, tits and magpies.
In my experience (and others), sunflower seeds with the shell on are not as successful or popular as sunflower hearts. Out of the three types of sunflower seed, sunflower hearts are the preferred choice of most garden birds. Be mindful that squirrels will not be able to resist and the addition of a squirrel proof feeder, or baffle would be advisable.
If you do find sunflower seeds to be popular food, remember the discarded shells will be messy under the feeder. You should make efforts to clear them away and to keep the area clean. This will be more hygienic and will help to prevent attracting rats.
As well as being one of the most popular foods to attract garden birds, any kind of suet or fat mixed with good quality seed and other treats will be a big hit in the colder seasons.