Black oil sunflower seed is the most familiar and most popular type of birdseed, for good reason. With this one type of seed in your feeders, you can attract dozens of bird species to your yard.
About Black Oil Sunflower Seed
All types of sunflower seeds originate from the common sunflower plant, Helianthus annuus. Many specialized and hybrid flower varieties create different bloom sizes, flower colors, stalk heights, and seed yields. The seeds they produce are similar, however, and sunflower seed is a popular type of birdseed.
When compared to striped sunflower seeds, black oil seeds are meatier and have a higher oil content, giving birds more nutrition and calories in every bite. Black oil seeds also have thinner shells, making them easier for small birds to crack.
The general nutritional components of black oil sunflower seed are:
- 28 percent fat
- 25 percent fiber
- 15 percent protein
- A and B vitamins
- Vitamin E
This makes black oil sunflower seed a valuable and nutritious part of any bird’s diet.
Birds That Eat Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
Without question, black oil sunflower seed is the most popular seed among a wide variety of backyard birds, and most birds will at least sample the seeds even if they prefer other foods. Birds that regularly eat sunflower seeds include:
- Northern cardinals and other large grosbeaks
- Tufted titmice or other tits and titmice
- Mourning doves and Eurasian collared-doves
- Gray catbirds and many thrushes
- Evening grosbeaks
- Common and boat-tailed grackles
- Black-billed magpies
- Cassin’s, purple, and house finches
- Pine siskins
- All types of goldfinches
In addition to these birds, all species of jays, chickadees, sparrows, and nuthatches will eagerly eat sunflower seeds—same with downy, hairy, acorn, gila, red-bellied, and ladder-backed woodpeckers. If the seeds are spilled on the ground, they will be quickly cleaned up by ground-feeding birds, such as quail, grouse, pheasants, and turkeys.
What Are Ground-Feeding Birds?
Ground-feeding birds prefer to forage for food on the ground, rather than from raised feeders. Such birds include doves, starlings, and robins.
How to Feed Sunflower Seeds to Birds
Sunflower seeds are best offered in hopper, platform, or tray feeders since the seeds are too large for many tube and mesh feeders. Sunflower seeds can also be sprinkled directly on the ground for ground-feeding birds, and dried sunflower heads can be purchased for birds to pluck the seeds directly from a "natural" feeder.
Black oil sunflower seeds can be fed as whole seeds and birds will crack the hulls to get at the nutritious meat. This can lead to a large mess of discarded hulls beneath feeders, however, and these discards can also damage or destroy the grass or other landscaping. For neater feeding, many birders opt for hulled sunflower seeds or sunflower chips rather than whole seeds. With these seeds, the only mess will be the occasionally spilled seed for ground feeders to clean up or lightweight chaff that will soon blow away. Hulled seeds can be much more expensive, however, particularly for birders with large, hungry flocks to feed.
Growing Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are the easiest type of birdseed to grow. You can plant seeds directly from your birdseed supply or purchase different varieties of sunflower seeds from nurseries and gardening centers (take care to purchase flower types noted for producing abundant seeds, as some hybrids do not). Roasted seeds that are meant for human consumption, however, will not germinate and should not be used to try to grow birdseed.
Plant seeds 1-2 inches deep and 8-12 inches apart in loose soil and full sun. For the best results, plant sunflower seeds only when the spring is warm and all danger of frost is past. Staggering plantings over several weeks will allow plants to mature at different times and ensure an ongoing supply of ready-to-eat birdseed. Sunflowers can be planted in all types of soil, including deep containers, and supplemental fertilization is not needed. Too much fertilization can decrease the seed yield by increasing the height of the stalks and leaf growth. Water the seeds every day (twice daily in very hot or dry climates) until the young plants are well established, then water thoroughly every other day.
Weeds should be controlled near sunflowers when the plants are very young, but once sunflowers grow several inches tall they will rapidly become established and weeds are no longer a concern. When stalks grow taller than 3 feet, stakes may be needed to ensure they do not topple over during high winds, storms, or when the seed heads become heavy.
Sunflower seeds will ripen in the fall as the seed heads turn downward and the inner flowers shrivel. If you plan to store seeds for refilling feeders later, you should cover the heads with fine, sturdy mesh to prevent birds from feasting prematurely, or they can be left on the stalks for birds to enjoy directly. To store the seeds, cut the flower heads off each stalk to dry. When the heads are completely dry, the seeds can be rubbed off to be added to feeders, or dry heads can be put in tray or platform feeders without removing the seeds. Store seeds you won’t use right away in a cool, dry place so they will stay fresh and appetizing for the birds.
For attracting the most diverse bird flock to your yard, black oil sunflower seeds can’t be beat. Whether you buy whole seeds, hulled chips, or grow your flowers, sunflower seeds are always the highlight of any feeder.