Sunflower’s No. 1 Status
Friday, January 1, 2021
filed under: Birds
Editor’s Note: The comments below are excerpted, with permission, from an article that initially appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest magazine. Titled “Gourmet or Bargain Seed: Which is Best for the Birds?”, the article was written by longtime New York bird watcher and magazine contributor Hank Weber.
Good scientific research studies began about 30 years ago, when Dr. Aelred Geis of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted comprehensive, multi-year studies focused on the feeding preferences of backyard birds. More-recent studies confirmed his findings and have added new information. In addition to the classic sunflower seed, researchers have studied more than a dozen different types of bird food including millet, milo, safflower seed, Nyjer (also known as thistle), cracked corn, peanuts, flax, canary seed, rapeseed, and others. Results from these studies have similar conclusions: Two types of seed are most preferred by birds: sunflower seed (black-oil or striped) and white proso millet.
It is unusual for so many studies performed by different scientists to generally agree on results, but they do: The one seed that attracts the widest variety of birds is sunflower seed. Other varieties of seed may help attract different types of birds to your yard, but sunflower should be the foundation of your feeding. Based on his studies, Geis suggests that to get the most birds for their money, backyard bird watchers should use sunflower seed in their feeder—100% sunflower, although he admits that scattering white proso millet on the ground or in a platform feeder will attract a variety of ground feeding birds. . . .
We all know, of course, that certain species are attracted to specific seeds other than sunflower and millet. Finches love Nyjer, for example, and blue jays, peanuts, so I can’t advise offering only sunflower seed. . . .
If you want to offer only one kind of seed to your birds, it should be sunflower seed. That is the most popular among seed-eating birds. However, if you prefer a birdseed mix, the bag should contain a high percentage of sunflower seed.
There are two common types of sunflower seed: striped and black-oil. Almost every bird loves them both, although there seems to be a preference for black-oil, which is smaller in size but richer in oil and nutrients. In addition, the harder shell of the striped sunflower seed is more difficult to crack open to reach the meaty kernel inside.