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Feeding Sunflower Hearts To Birds

Lesser Redpoll

Sunflower seeds are one of the most nutritious foods you can feed to birds. Harvested from the sunflower plant Helianthus annuus, they are packed with fat and protein, and are rich in vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin B, iron, and potassium, essential for keeping birds healthy.

Sunflower seeds are one of the most nutritious foods you can feed to birds. Harvested from the sunflower plant Helianthus annuus, they are packed with fat and protein, and are rich in vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin B, iron, and potassium, essential for keeping birds healthy.

What are the different types of sunflower seeds?

There are two types of sunflower seeds available to feed birds: striped sunflower seeds and black oil sunflower seeds.

The striped seeds are harvested from the type of sunflowers you would grow in your garden. They are larger than the black oil seeds and have tougher shells which means smaller birds and softbills may find them difficult to eat.

Black oil sunflower seeds, as the name suggests, have higher levels of oil meaning they contain more calories per gram. They have thinner shells than striped sunflower seeds, so they are easier for many birds to eat. They tend to be more expensive than the striped seeds.

One of the problems of offering birds straight sunflower seeds is that they can be messy. Birds will crack open the shells leaving the discarded hulls on the ground, and they can even damage grass and plants because the seed husks contain an allelopathic chemical. Allelopathy is where one plant inhibits the growth of another, giving competing plants a chance to grow.

Dropped seeds may also germinate in lawns and flower beds, and they can attract vermin and other unwanted pests.

What are sunflower hearts?

If you want to feed your birds sunflower seeds, then they best way to do so is to offer them sunflower hearts. Also known as sunflower kernels or cracked sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts are the seeds with the shells or husks removed.

Sunflower Hearts Nutrition (per 100 g)

Fat (total)51 g
Saturated fat4.5 g
Sodium9 mg
Potassium645 mg
Carbohydrates20 g
Protein21 g
Vitamin A1 % (RDA)
Vitamin C2% (RDA)
Vitamin B665% (RDA)
Calcium7% (RDA)
Iron29% (RDA)
Magnesium81% (RDA)

Sunflower hearts not only have the same high levels of nutrition as the seeds but also several advantages:

They are easier for smaller birds and birds with soft bills to eat so you can attract a wider variety of species to your gardenBirds do not waste energy cracking open the shells, which is especially important during the winter months when conservation of energy is paramount

Sunflower hearts are safe for parent birds to feed to their chicks

Sunflower hearts do not make as much of a mess as sunflower seeds. Any hearts that are discarded will be blown away by the wind.

It is rare for sunflower hearts to sprout in the ground

Although sunflower hearts are more expensive to buy than sunflower seeds you won’t be wasting money on shells that will not be eaten. You’re also paying a premium for the convenience and the fact that they are more processed than straight sunflower seeds.

Buy sunflower hearts

Available to buy online

What birds will eat sunflower hearts?

Sunflower hearts will attract most species of birds to your garden but they are particularly loved by goldfinches and tits. Unlike straight seeds, softbills such as robins and blackbirds will be able to eat them. You can also buy sunflower heart chips which are broken into bite size pieces and are ideal for putting out during fledgling season so parent birds can feed their chicks.

Great Spotted Woodpecker



Collared Dove


Long-Tailed Tit


Great Tit


Blue Tit


House Sparrow

Are there any disadvantages to sunflower hearts?

Sunflower hearts are hugely popular with many species of birds so you may find that you get through them a lot more quickly than other types of food.

Limit the amount you put out or mix them with other seeds or suet pellets to stop things getting too expensive. If you are concerned about bigger birds or even squirrels eating large quantities of sunflower hearts, then make sure you choose the right bird feeder. Sunflower heart bird feeders have smaller holes throughout the tube rather than openings around the ports which prevents too many being dispensed at once.

Choose a feeder with small perches which big birds will find difficult to balance on. And for preventing squirrels from raiding your bird feeder, invest in a squirrel proof feeder or squirrel baffle you can attach to the pole.

If you are offering sunflower hearts to ground feeding birds, then a ground feeder sanctuary or cage will stop bigger birds accessing the food. As with any bird food ensure you only put out enough for birds to eat in a day to prevent rats and other vermin visiting your garden at night in search of leftovers.

Because sunflower hearts have a high oil content, they can go rancid fairly quickly in hot weather, and the oil can accumulate on bird tables and feeders. The lack of protective shell also means in wet weather they can go mushy and may clog up feeders. Keep things clean by giving your bird feeders a good scrub at least once a week which will also help prevent the spread of disease.

How do I store sunflower hearts?

Sunflower hearts and seeds should have a shelf-life of about 3 months if they are stored correctly. If they start to smell rancid it means the natural oils are breaking down due to oxygen exposure and they are starting to go bad.

The best way to keep them fresh is to store them in an airtight container or bag in a cool, dry place. If you are buying them in bulk decant them from the sack they came in so that mice can’t nibble through to get at the seeds inside. You can prolong the life of sunflower seeds by storing them in your freezer and taking out just enough when you need them.

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