Feeding Sunflower Hearts To Birds
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.
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 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, which can damage grass and attract vermin. Dropped seeds may also germinate in lawns and flower beds.
If you want to feed your birds sunflower seeds then they best way to do it is to offer them sunflower hearts. Also known as sunflower kernels or cracked sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts are the seeds with the shells removed.
Sunflower Hearts Nutrition (per 100 g)
Sunflower hearts have the same high levels of nutrition as the seeds and also a number of advantages:
They are easier for smaller birds to eat
Birds do not waste energy cracking open the shells, especially important during the winter months when conservation of energy is paramount
They do not make as much of a mess as sunflower seeds. Any husks 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 are not wasting money on shells that will not be eaten and you are paying a premium for the convenience. However, if you are concerned about larger birds or even squirrels eating large quantities of sunflower hearts then ensure you choose the right bird feeder.
Sunflower heart feeders have larger ports making it easy for birds to get at the food but bigger birds will find it difficult to perch on them. Choose a squirrel proof feeder or invest in a baffle or protector. We have more advice about preventing squirrels getting at your bird food.
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.
Because sunflower hearts have a high oil content they can go rancid fairly quickly in hot weather. Make sure you store them in a cool, dry place particularly if you are buying them in bulk. The oil can accumulate on the feeders so ensure you clean them regularly.
Sunflower hearts will attract most species of birds to your garden but they are particularly loved by goldfinches and tits. Unlike the straight seeds, softbills such as robins and blackbirds will also be able to eat them. You can also buy sunflower heart chips which are broken into bite size pieces and are ideal for feeding during fledgling season so parent birds can feed their chicks.