How to Grow Your Own Birdseed

Plant sunflowers and other native plants to attract more beautiful birds.

goldfinch and sunflowerCourtesy Hannah Jones
An American Goldfinch perches on a sunflower

Whether you’re already a dedicated caretaker of backyard feeders or brand-new to birding, it’s always a good idea to kick it up a notch! Plant native sunflowers to attract and feed your beloved birds, build a healthier habitat and make your space easy to manage.

“Anybody, anywhere they live, can support the birds they love by growing native plants,” says Tod Winston, program manager for the National Audubon Society’s Plants for Birds program. Sunflowers are simple—it doesn’t take much for their seeds to take root. Provide them with plenty of sun and a spot in a patio pot, raised bed or garden, and you’ll soon have a crop of flourishing flowers. Read about the top 10 sunny sunflower varieties.

Select the Right Plants

Check out the National Audubon Society’s Native Plants Database or consult local native nurseries to select an ideal species. Plant your sunflower seeds in late spring. The soil must be warm and dry, with no possibility of frost.

Sunflower seeds need a soil temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit to sprout. Measure with a thermometer or go with your gut. To test the soil moisture, grab a handful and squeeze. The soil is too wet if it sticks together and doesn’t crumble. Once conditions are just right, plant the seeds up to 1 inch deep, with about 12 inches between each seed. They’ll need about six to eight hours of sunlight each day. Here’s how to grow wildflowers for butterflies.

sunflowerCourtesy Brigitta Dimas

Native Plants Help Birds

“The more people who plant native plants in their yard, the more resilient birds are going to be in the face of climate change and in the face of continuing loss of habitat,” Tod says. He adds that nearly 41 percent of all migratory songbird populations in North America are declining.

Sunflowers also benefit many pollinators, caterpillars and birds. Their compound flower heads are packed with pollen, and these bright beauties host more than 70 species of native moth and butterfly caterpillars. That’s a big deal because one nest of Carolina chickadee chicks may eat up to 9,000 caterpillars before fledging. Plus, 90 percent of land birds feed insects to chicks, so it’s important to protect those local populations. As a bonus, migrating birds love the seeds because they’re high-fat fuel for their journeys south. Learn about  bird migration secrets.

Grow Related Native Plants

If you’re seeking some variety to beautify your backyard, consider planting other natives from the Aster family. Try coneflowers, tickseed and black- and brown-eyed Susans. Check out the top 10 seed-bearing plants.

Birds That Love Sunflowers

These birds can’t resist the seedy snacks in sunflowers.

  • Cardinals
  • Grosbeaks
  • Chickadees
  • Titmice
  • Crows
  • Jays
  • Finches
  • Nuthatches
  • Sparrows
  • Buntings
  • Juncos
  • Redpolls
  • Towhees
  • Woodpeckers
  • Wrens
  • Pine Siskins

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Kelsey Roseth
Kelsey Roseth is a freelance journalist and passionate birder based in Duluth, Minnesota. She is working to create a welcoming backyard for her favorite feathered friends.