The sunflower seed is the fruit of the sunflower (Helianthus annuus). Whole sunflower seeds can be fed in bird feeders or on bird tables and make an excellent and economical food. The black sunflower seed, sometimes called oilseed sunflower, is a strain especially selected for its high oil content, a vital energy source for birds. Striped sunflower seeds are used as an ingredient in many human foods and are often referred to as confectionary or bakery sunflower seeds. When dehulled (the shell or hull is removed) the edible remainder is called the sunflower heart or kernel. This gives increased access to the nutritional value of the kernel to many more birds, including all the songbirds including blackbirds, robins and dunnocks and can be fed from bird feeders, on the table or on the ground. The key thing to remember is that once the hull has been removed, the sunflower heart will deteriorate more quickly and start to rot, therefore only fresh, carefully stored sunflower hearts should be offered as a food source.
Over the past decade sunflower hearts have become popular worldwide and have overtaken the peanut as the preferred choice of bird food. While large crops are now grown in the UK, the quality is variable due to the inclement climate and all the finest quality sunflower hearts are imported from Europe and beyond.
As a bird food, sunflower seeds offer high values of essential fatty acids as well as an excellent source of fibre, amino acids, B vitamins and minerals.