Sunflower hearts and chips, hulled sunflowers for wildbird birdseed, wild bird feeding

Sunflower Kernels
Sunflower Hearts
Sunflower Chips
Hulled Sunflower

It's often said that if you could only offer one kind of food to birds, it should be sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds attract more species of birds than any other type of seed, making it the mainstay of any backyard bird-feeding plan.

sunflower hearts and chipsAnd while black oil sunflower seeds and striped sunflower seeds attract many different species of birds, the sunflower seeds without the shell attract more species than the two of them combined.

Hulled sunflower seeds can be purchased whole or as chips, sometimes called hearts. The whole kernels are the most desirable, of course, but the pieces are still attractive to birds and both forms are used in many wild bird seed mixes.

The beauty of sunflower seeds without the hulls is twofold. For birds, there is the benefit that none of their precious energy reserves during the cold winter months is wasted opening the shells. For humans, there is no mess of shells accumulating under the feeders that eventually will have to be raked up and disposed of. Since the shells of sunflower seeds contain a component that is toxic to grass and will kill any grass that is growing around or beneath the feeders, this is an important factor for many people in choosing whether to offer sunflower seeds in or out of the shell.

Although the most species of birds prefer black oil sunflower seeds to all other sunflower seeds, shelled sunflower seeds attract even more species that aren't equipped with the beaks to crack open the shells. Even species not usually associated with eating sunflower seeds – like robins, thrushes, mockingbirds, thrashers, catbirds, sparrows, bluebirds and other thrushes – will all consume the smaller chips or hearts that find their way to the ground.

But if there were only one reason to offer hulled sunflower seeds, it would be for the goldfinches that adore it. Goldfinches rank at the top of the list of the birds that most people want to attract to their backyard feeding stations and hulled sunflower seeds practically guarantee they'll be regular visitors at any feeder stocked with them. In addition to the goldfinches, house and purple finches, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, grosbeaks, wrens, and woodpeckers all relish sunflower seeds out of the shell.

There is labor involved to remove the shells that makes sunflower kernels costlier than sunflower seeds in the shell, but for most people the difference in cost is money well spent. However, the shelled seeds tend to spoil faster if exposed to dampness so they should be offered in feeders that provide protection from the elements either by their design or by the addition of a baffle that hangs above them that will keep them dry.

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— written by Carla Davis; The Wild Bird Lady  (c) 2004 - Written permission required for use of images/text on these pages.

Carla Davis is a Habitat Consultant residing on Long Island, New York, where she gives seminars on how to develop Backyard Bird Habitats through bird feeding and native gardening at Garden Centers, Garden Clubs, Nature Centers, Schools, and Audubon Chapters. She has taught portions of the Master Birding Course for Cornell Cooperative Extension, Suffolk County, New York, and her property has been designated as an Official Backyard Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.  She is a contributing writer to Birding Business magazine and The Bird's-Eye reView, the newsletter of the former National Bird-Feeding Society, where she served as a member of the Board of Directors.