Do Sparrows Eat Sunflower Seeds? [Favorite Types Explained]


Sparrows are a common bird around the world, and North America in particular. Depending on the type, sparrows can be a musical and visual addition to your backyard.

To attract sparrows, one of the most important things you can do is offer the right type of food. Sparrows have a largely seed-based diet, but there are many types to choose from, including several types of sunflower seeds.

Sparrows love to eat sunflower seeds. There are several categories of sunflower seeds based on their nutritional value, their appearance, and their processing methods. Each kind of sunflower seed will attract sparrows. However, the species will vary depending on the type of seed you use. You can avoid attracting undesirable house sparrows by using and/or avoiding specific feed.

Why Do Sparrows Eat Sunflower Seeds?

Sparrows are granivorous birds. This means that seeds make up the majority, if not all, of their diet. Another term for this relationship between animals and plants is “seed predation.”

Sunflower seeds are a favorite of sparrows and other granivorous birds. This is because the seeds are high in fat, which the birds need for energy.

Certain types of sunflower seeds have higher nutritional value than others. They also have a thin shell that’s easier for sparrows to break.

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This ease of access is also why sparrows seek out sunflowers even outside of bird feeders. Sparrows don’t need to eat just the kernels. They can eat whole sunflower seeds because of the seeds’ thin shells.

The birds find it easy to perch on the heads of the flowers themselves. Then, they have quick and easy access to the thin husks.

However, food that’s easy to obtain will attract wild animals more than more difficult food. The birds don’t have to waste energy opening seeds without shells.

Instead, they can save that energy for other tasks. So, birds will prefer going to that feeder than to one with whole sunflower seeds.

Types Of Sunflower Seeds Sparrows Eat

All sunflower seeds fall under three nutritional categories: linoleic, high oleic, and mid oleic sunflower seeds. Linoleic sunflower seeds are “traditional” sunflower seeds.

Manufacturers use these seeds to make sunflower oils of the same names. 75% of all sunflowers that commercially grow in the United States are for oil production.

Sunflower seed producers also categorize the seeds by the appearance of their shells. Finally, you can also buy sunflower seeds with or without their shells.

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Linoleic Sunflower Seeds

Linoleic sunflowers are the “original” sunflowers and are the most common variety. This is why they’re also called traditional sunflowers. These flowers, and therefore their seeds and oil, have low levels of saturated fats and are high in Vitamin E.

Linoleic acid is a type of polyunsaturated fat, which makes up about 65% of these seeds. They’re low in saturated fat and are only 21% monounsaturated fats, or oleic.

High Oleic Sunflower Seeds

The high oleic sunflower is a modification of traditional sunflowers. Breeders designed them to have a higher monounsaturated fats content than linoleic sunflowers.

The oil made from these seeds has between 82% and 85% oleic content. That’s around four times as much as traditional linoleic sunflower oil.

Mid-Oleic Sunflower Seeds

Oil made from mid-oleic seeds has 60-75% oleic acid content. As the name suggests, it’s a midway point between linoleic and high oleic oil.

It has less linoleic acid, which is what gives fried food its flavor. However, mid-oleic sunflowers still provide enough flavor for the frying process.

The oil from these sunflower seeds doesn’t require hydrogenation, either. This process preserves the flavor in oils for a longer time, specifically polyunsaturated oils. Since linoleic acid is part of polyunsaturated fat, those oils require hydrogenation.

While the process preserves flavor, it also produces trans fatty acids that may be unhealthy. Since mid-oleic doesn’t require hydrogenation, it keeps more of its health benefits.

Black Oil Seeds Vs. Striped Seeds

Sunflower seeds are also categorized by their appearance. Seeds can fall into two categories that have no relation to their nutrition content: black oil and striped.

Black oil sunflower seeds, or “oilers,” have thinner husks than striped sunflower seeds. Almost all granivorous birds can crack them open to eat the kernel. They also have a higher fat content which is ideal for winter birds.

Striped sunflower seeds, on the other hand, have a thick outer shell. This makes it difficult for birds without specialized beaks, such as house sparrows and blackbirds, to open.

Hulled Sunflower Seeds

Finally, sunflower seeds can also be sold as hulled or in-shell (whole). This also has nothing to do with their nutritional content, nor the original appearance of the shell.

Any type of sunflower seed can be sold as hulled. Hulled seeds have simply had their outer shells removed, leaving only the kernel behind.

This means birds don’t have to crack open the shells at all, and therefore any bird can eat them with ease. Because there are no shells, you don’t have to clean up any discarded hulls.

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However, these seeds are more expensive than others because more human labor goes into processing them. At the same time, the packages often contain more edible material because the price depends on weight.

Without the extra weight and space taken by the shells, more seeds can go into one package.

What Seeds Do Sparrows Eat?

Since sparrows are granivores, they eat a wide variety of seeds. These include:

  • White proso millet
  • Canary seed
  • Black oil or any hulled sunflower seed
  • Safflower seed
  • Shelled and/or cracked corn

Be careful with which seed/feed you provide in your bird feeders. Some sparrows have a negative impact on native bird populations. The above list includes feed that will attract all kinds of sparrows, including invasive house sparrows.

What Are The Best Seeds For Sparrows?

All of the ten most common feeder sparrows in North America love sunflower seeds of all types. However, house sparrows, which many consider pests, much prefer black oil seeds or hulled seeds.

This is because black oil seeds have thin shells that are easier for their beaks to crack open. Hulled seeds don’t have a shell at all, which means all birds can eat and enjoy them. So, if you only want native sparrows in your yard, you should only use striped sunflower seeds.

All of these sparrows also enjoy millet and cracked corn, which is in fact a type of seed.

These types of seeds are the best for attracting the most kinds of sparrows. However, milo, Nyjer, peanut hearts, and safflower can also attract sparrows, albeit on a smaller scale.

What Seeds Do Sparrows Not Like?

Some commercial bird seed mixes contain “filler” material. These include golden millet, red millet, and flaxseed. Most birds, including sparrows, do not enjoy these seeds and will avoid them.

Not only will using feed with a lot of filler not attract birds, but it will also rot when uneaten. This can spread fungus and other harmful growth to the more desirable seed. Don’t use feed that will rot quickly or use too much feed for birds to eat before it goes bad.

Rapeseed is another type of seed that sparrows do not like, although other birds will eat them. House sparrows enjoy canary seed, but most other sparrows do not.

How To Keep House Sparrows Away From Feeders

House sparrows are the most widespread sparrow in North America. These little birds are the ones that hop around city streets because they’re very comfortable with humans.

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This is because they know that human activity is beneficial to them. To start with, we aren’t actively dangerous to them. They’re also happy to eat the food we provide in feeders and even our own scraps.

Our homes and infrastructure, such as light poles, offer shelter for house sparrows as well.

To avoid attracting house sparrows, be wise about what food you provide in your feeders.

For example, house sparrows have a hard time cracking the thick shells of striped sunflower seeds. Avoid black-oil seeds because house sparrows much prefer them.

You should also avoid canary seed. Not only do most pleasant sparrows dislike it, but disagreeable house sparrows are the exception. Canary seed will attract house sparrows but not other, less invasive species.

It’s not only the feeders you have to worry about. Avoid providing birdhouses near your home. House sparrows love to nest near human buildings, while other birds do not.


Sunflower seeds, like sparrows, come in many different forms. Some have better nutritional content for sparrows, while others are easier for sparrows to eat.

All of the most common North American sparrows, including house sparrows, will eat some form of sunflower seed. You can buy any kind of sunflower seed without the shell, which almost all sparrows prefer.

However, this includes house sparrows, which you may not want near your birdfeeder. You can instead use whole striped sunflower seeds, as these are difficult for house sparrows to crack.

Sparrows and many other birds do not like filler seeds such as flax and various kinds of millet. You can use these in your feeders to avoid attracting house sparrows.

However, the disadvantages of these seeds are that you will also drive away more desirable sparrows. It can also lead to fungus as the uneaten seed rots.

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Want more birds in your backyard? Get simple tips on attracting feathered friends and maximizing your bird feeding setup. Our free cheat sheet has got you covered!
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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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