Black oil sunflower seeds are the most common and popular choice for birdseed, but why is that? Can wild birds eat striped sunflower seeds? In the same vein, humans almost always eat striped sunflower seeds rather than black oil sunflower seeds. So, what are the differences between black oil sunflower seeds and striped sunflower seeds, and why do humans and birds typically eat one or the other?

In this article, we’re going to break down the differences between black oil sunflower seeds and striped sunflower seeds so that you’ll know everything you need to know about the different types of sunflower seeds. 

What Is the Difference Between Black Oil Sunflower Seeds and Striped Sunflower Seeds?

Both black oil sunflower seeds and striped sunflower seeds are edible for humans and birds. 

So, what is the big difference between the two types of sunflower seeds?

The most significant difference is that black oil sunflower seeds are typically marketed toward birds, while striped sunflower seeds are primarily marketed toward humans. This distinction is due to the difference in size and nutrition. 

  • Black oil sunflower seeds have more calories and fat per seed.
  • Striped sunflower seeds are larger, making them easier to open for big human hands but harder to open for small birds with weak beaks.
  • Black oil sunflower seeds have a thin shell, which allows birds to open them with less energy expenditure.
  • Black oil sunflower seeds are a preferred food for many types of birds, making them an excellent bird food choice.

Why Are Black Oil Sunflower Seeds Better for Birds?

Both black oil sunflower seeds and striped sunflower seeds are edible. But why do birds prefer black oil sunflower seeds, and are they healthier?

Black oil sunflower seeds are better for birds for several reasons. For starters, black oil sunflower seeds have a higher oil content and are meatier, meaning that birds get more calories and nutrition with each bite. This saves birds time and energy expenditure while looking for food, which is essential for their survival, especially during winter.

Next, black oil sunflower seeds have thinner shells, allowing small birds to crack the shells easier than if they were to eat striped sunflower seeds. Nearly all seed-eating birds can crack black oil sunflower seeds open. However, striped sunflower seeds would be much harder for small birds, like blackbirds and house sparrows, to crack open and eat. 

Black oil sunflower seeds also provide critical nutrients for egg production. Additionally, the oiliness of the black oil sunflower seed is nutritious and ideal for promoting healthier, shinier feathers. The extra fat from the oil also helps birds to plump up before winter, which is especially crucial for birds living in cold climates. 

Why Do Humans Usually Eat Striped Sunflower Seeds?

Humans usually eat striped sunflower chips or sunflower seeds because they are easier for us to shell with our hands because the kernel itself is larger. However, black oil sunflower seeds are also safe for human consumption. If you’re interested in trying them, you may need to purchase them hulled or purchase a tool to open them with since most humans will struggle to crack them with their hands. Many humans prefer striped sunflower seeds because they are less fatty and have fewer calories per seed, which may be important for those following specific diets. 

Types of Birds That Prefer Each Sunflower Seed

If you’re trying to get certain types of birds to hang around your property, you’ll want to consider which kind of sunflower seed they would prefer: 

  • Seed-eating birds, like sparrows, nuthatches, and chickadees, are most attracted to black oil sunflower seeds. 
  • Large birds, like grosbeaks and cardinals, will be attracted by both types of seed, but they won’t have to compete with small birds for striped sunflower seeds since many small birds aren’t strong enough to open these types of seeds. 
  • If you’re trying to encourage any and all birds to hang around your property, consider purchasing hulled black oil sunflower seeds. Hulled sunflower seeds leave no mess behind and save birds time and energy when they are eating. However, hulled seeds can be much more expensive, so keep this in mind when choosing a sunflower seed. 

Keep in mind that most birds will eat any sunflower seeds available to them. However, if multiple food sources are available, they’re likely to choose their preferred food source. For small birds, this will be the black oil sunflower seed because it’s much easier to crack. 

In almost all cases, black oil sunflower seeds will be ideal for feeding birds. The other thing you’ll want to consider if you leave sunflower seeds out for birds is that squirrels and other critters may also go after them. So, if you have a pest problem, you may need to remove the birdseed altogether or temporarily until the issue is resolved. 

What Types of Birds Love Black Oil Sunflower Seeds?

If you’re looking to attract any of the following variety of birds, these birds are known to be attracted to black oil seeds: 

  • Mourning doves
  • Jays
  • Redpolls
  • Purple finches
  • Starlings
  • Cowbirds
  • Red-winged blackbirds
  • Sparrows
  • Songbirds
  • Northern cardinal
  • Nuthatches
  • Juncos
  • Chickadees
  • Blackbirds
  • Catbirds
  • Quail
  • Cardinals
  • Finches
  • Titmice
  • Brown thrasher
  • Common grackle
  • Towhees
  • Pine siskins
  • Blue jays
  • House finches
  • Tufted titmouse
  • Warblers
  • Woodpeckers
  • Pigeons
  • Buntings
  • Grosbeaks
  • Siskins
  • Goldfinches

Why Are Black Oil Sunflower Seeds More Expensive?

Birdseed mixes are often less expensive than purchasing pure black oil sunflower seeds. Often, this price difference is due to sunflower seeds being more costly than cheap mixers, like millet. Birdseed and black oil sunflower seeds can be especially expensive during the winter when many parts of the United States experience drought, while the demand for sunflower seeds continues to go up. Other factors may be your location. If the sunflower seeds need to be transported a far distance, the cost of gas and shipping can raise product prices for you. 

Are Black Oil Sunflower Seeds and Striped Sunflower Seeds Prepared and Grown the Same Way?

Black oil sunflower seeds and striped sunflower seeds are grown on common sunflower plants, the Helianthus annuus. However, the specific sunflower species varies because different sunflowers grow unique seeds, and many don’t grow any seeds. Common sunflowers are part of the Aster family and are the state flower of Kansas. These cheerful flowers produce many types of sunflower seeds but never produce more than one type on the same flower. 

In terms of preparation, both sunflower seeds are processed and grown in the same way. The most important thing to note is that black oil sunflower seeds must be eaten fresh because they go rancid much faster. Due to their high oil content, black oil sunflower seeds can quickly go rancid if they are not fresh, which is why it’s important to smell the seeds in store before purchasing them. Skip clearance sunflower seeds because they will go bad quickly if they haven’t already. 

Should I Purchase Sunflower Seeds With Shells or Without Shells for Birds?

Sunflower seeds without shells, also known as sunflower hearts, are more expensive than sunflower seeds with shells. 

Sunflower shells can be messy, and they contain a chemical that may stunt or kill the growth of certain plants near the shell. This phenomenon may occur near platform feeders or when you have large piles of accumulated sunflower seed shells. If you’re an avid gardener or can’t frequently clean up the shells, consider using hulled sunflower seeds instead, especially if you’re feeding ground-feeding birds or filling hopper feeders with them. 

Likewise, if you live in an apartment complex, condo, or close to other homes, you may want to choose sunflower seeds without shells for the sake of your neighbors. Strong winds may blow sunflower shells into your neighbor’s yards or porches, which might not make the best impression. 

If you choose hulled sunflower seeds, refill your bird feeder daily with as much as you’re willing to go through each day. Birds will take advantage of eating hulled sunflower seeds because of the time it saves them while eating and may continue eating all day long. So, only put out as much as you want to go through at one time. Hulled sunflower seeds can also be more susceptible to the weather and elements because they don’t have a shell to protect them. Refilling the bird feeder daily with a smaller amount will ensure that your sunflower seeds don’t go bad. 

Final Thoughts

When in doubt, go with the black oil sunflower seeds for birds. Most birds can eat them, and they provide better nutrients for optimal health in birds. If you’re unwilling to refill your bird feeder daily or are concerned about your sunflower seeds staying fresh, go with shelled sunflower seeds. Most birds will still be able to eat them, and this will prevent any one bird from gorging on your entire bird feeder’s supply. 

We hope our piece on the differences between black oil sunflower seeds and striped sunflower seeds was helpful. Have fun installing a beautiful bird feeder and watching birds flock to your garden and yard!

Editorial Contributors
avatar for Lora Novak

Lora Novak

Senior Editor

Lora Novak meticulously proofreads and edits all commercial content for Today’s Homeowner to guarantee that it contains the most up-to-date information. Lora brings over 12 years of writing, editing, and digital marketing expertise. She’s worked on thousands of articles related to heating, air conditioning, ventilation, roofing, plumbing, lawn/garden, pest control, insurance, and other general homeownership topics.

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Andrew Dunn

Senior Editor

Andrew Dunn is a veteran journalist with more than 15 years of experience reporting and editing for local and national publications, including The Charlotte Observer and Business North Carolina magazine. His work has been recognized numerous times by the N.C. Press Association and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He is also a former general contractor with experience with cabinetry, finish carpentry and general home improvement and repair. Andrew earned a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as a certificate in business journalism. He lives in Charlotte, N.C.

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