Can Birds Eat Natural Sunflower Kernels?

Black-oil sunflower seeds stand out from other offerings.
Black-oil sunflower seeds stand out from other offerings. (Image: Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Sunflower seeds are tasty and healthy staples in many bird diets. In the wild, they often flock to sunflower fields to grab the seeds from the flower heads as they mature. Although all birds typically sold as pets can eat sunflower seeds, some prefer other food such as corn, nuts or other types of seeds. In your home, adding natural sunflower seeds to your bird's diet in moderation can help ensure he gets the vitamins and fatty acids he needs.

Benefits of Sunflower Seeds

Whether you're growing natural sunflower seeds or buying organic for your feathered friend, there's no need to roast them. People prefer the taste of roasted seeds, but birds like them fine raw. The seeds provide protein, fiber and healthy fatty acids your bird needs as well as nutrients such as calcium, iron, potassium and vitamin B. According to a 1980 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study by Aelred D. Geis, many birds seem to prefer the taste of sunflower seeds over other seeds such as peanuts and flaxseed.

Why Kernels?

Sunflower seeds grow in a tough outer shell that most birds are capable of cracking with their beaks. The black-oil sunflower seeds are smaller with a thinner hull than the gray or striped sunflower seeds, making the black-oil variety more popular with birds. But cracking seeds takes a good bit of energy, so it's more efficient for you to give your bird seed kernels that have already been hulled. Most birds won't eat the shells, which contain so much fiber they interfere with the birds' digestive systems. Buying shelled kernels is a bit more expensive, but it's easier on your bird. Also, you have less clean up since you don't have to remove uneaten shells.

What to Add

While sunflower seeds offer natural nutrients, your bird can benefit from a bit of variety in his diet. Many birds who enjoy sunflower seeds also enjoy millet seeds, particularly white proso millet. Try other filler foods in small quantities to see which ones your bird likes best, such as oats, thistle, peanuts, corn or rapeseed. A mix that contains sunflower seeds should be a small part of your bird's diet, which should consist mostly of nutrient-rich food pellets designed for your bird's species. Talk to your vet about the proper ratio of pellets and seeds to fit your bird's nutritional needs.

When to Use Chips

Chips are sunflower seed kernels that have been broken into smaller pieces. While most birds can eat the kernels whole, some smaller birds, such as finches, have trouble with the kernels and prefer to eat kernel chips. In the wild, they scavenge for the pieces dropped by larger birds. But in the home environment, you can buy the kernels already broken into chips.

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