Our Best Tips For Preventing Your Sunflowers From Becoming Bird Food

Our Best Tips For Preventing Your Sunflowers From Becoming Bird Food

Birds, like humans, love sunflower seeds because they are nutritious and easy to digest. The black oil sunflower variety with thin shells is a favorite among birds. However, if you do not want birds to eat all the seeds, you can cover the flowers with netting, cheesecloth, garden fleece, or paper bags. Adding decoy predators or reflective items to your yard can also help deter birds.

Birds eating sunflowers can be enjoyable to watch, but it can leave behind damaged flowerheads and empty hulls. Newly planted seedlings can also be eaten before they mature. To protect the seeds, you can spread mulch or hay over newly sown seeds or cover them with row fabrics. You can also put up chicken wire or mesh around the growing flowers. It is important to remember to remove the protective layering once the plants grow tall.

Shield flowerheads from birds

Stocking-covered sunflower

MariletSy Garden Travel Food & DIY/YouTube

Protecting the seeds early is the key to deterring birds from munching on your sunflowers. Instead of waiting for the underside of the flowers to brown and start to dry, start protecting your seeds around four to six weeks after the first blooms. The seeds will begin maturing about this time, attracting birds in their wake. Cut a garden fleece (or repurpose an old pantyhose) to cover the top 3 to 4 inches of the stalks and the flowerhead before securing it with a string. Two square feet of the fabric is likely sufficient for dwarf sunflower varieties.

These light fabric covers work great as they block the birds without inhibiting sunlight. Avoid plastic coverings, especially if you live in humid climates, as they may turn misty, causing rot or mildew. You can use paper bags, too—just punch a few holes along the sides and top to promote air circulation.

If you are looking for another deterrent option, the National Sunflower Association recommends a few bird-repellent sprays that can be used on sunflowers.

Complement with visual deterrents

Decoy owl among sunflowers


Besides just blocking the bird’s access to the seeds, there are reflective visual devices that are useful in keeping avian thieves off your sunflowers. These deterrents spook the birds through their arbitrary light flashes, posing a threat. Mylar ribbons and reflecting tapes work well in repelling blackbirds from sunflowers. Placing decoy predators in your flower garden is an option, too, as they invoke the birds’ sense of self-preservation, throwing them off-track. But they work better if fitted with motion features, such as owls with rotating heads. These decoys are best used as short-term measures and must be relocated now and then to retain their effect.

It might sound counterintuitive, but setting up birdfeeders can distract the feathered fiends from your sunflowers — provided they’re located far from the shrubs you’re trying to protect. Border edges or property perimeters are the best spots. Just make sure they carry the food your unwanted visitors like the most. Planting lure crops follows the same principle. Offer your feathered friends alternate crops (like corn) that they find palatable. Just make sure they ripen early and aren’t chemically treated.

✿ Read More About Flowers.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.