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 birdfeeders, you will attract dozens of bird species to your backyard.
About Black Oil Sunflower Seed
All types of sunflower seeds originate from the common sunflower, Helianthus annuus, though there are many specialized and hybrid flower varieties that create different bloom sizes, stalk heights and seed yields. The seeds they produce are similar, however, and sunflower seed is a universally popular 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
- B vitamins
- Vitamin E
This makes black oil sunflower seed a valuable part of any backyard bird’s diet.
Birds That Eat Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
Without question, black oil sunflower seed is the most popular among a wide variety of backyard birds, and most birds will at least sample the seeds even if they prefer other foods. Birds that will regularly eat sunflower seeds include:
- Northern cardinals
- Tufted titmice
- Mourning doves and Eurasian collared-doves
- Gray catbirds
- Evening grosbeaks
- Common and boat-tailed grackles
- Black-billed magpies
- Cassin’s, purple and house finches
- Pine siskins
In addition to these birds, all species of jays, chickadees and nuthatches will eagerly eat sunflower seeds, as will many woodpecker species including downy, hairy, acorn, gila, red-bellied and ladder-backed woodpeckers.
How to Feed Sunflower Seeds
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 that will allow 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 grass. Many birders opt for hulled sunflower seeds or sunflower chips rather than whole seeds, and the only mess from the hulls will be the occasional spilled seed – which ground feeders will quickly clean up – or lightweight chaff that will soon blow away. Hulled seeds are 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. Roasted seeds that are meant for human consumption, however, will not germinate and should not be used to try to grow birdseed.
Plant the 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, and stagger plantings over several weeks to allow plants to mature at different times to ensure an ongoing supply of ready-to-eat birdseed. Sunflowers can be planted in all types of soil, and supplemental fertilization is not necessary – in fact, too much fertilization can decrease the seed yield by increasing the height of the stalks and the leaf growth. Water the seeds daily (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 three feet, stakes can be used 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 your seeds for refilling feeders later, you will need to cover the heads with mesh to prevent birds from feasting on them 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 backyard, black oil sunflower seed can’t be beat. Whether you buy whole seeds, chips or grow your own, sunflower seeds are always the highlight of any birdfeeder.