A 1980 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revealed many songbirds favored sunflowers seeds that were of the oil-type or black striped sunflower plant varieties. These "high" quality seeds are rich in nutrients, fats and carbohydrates important for sustaining the lifestyles of active birds. Oil-type seeds cost less per pound and have thinner shells than the striped sunflower seeds that are referred to as "confectionary types." Many ornamental sunflowers that are grown as cut flowers also can produce seeds for birds, but often the flowers are small and yield tiny seeds or few seeds that are easily eaten.
This variety of annual sunflower grows only 2 to 4 feet tall. Black Peredovik types of sunflowers have black seeds rich in oil that are eaten by many song- and game birds and are particularly enjoyed by doves. Some seed companies select plants that developed particularly large or well-shaped seeds in their flower heads and may be given a cultivar name, such as 'Hunter's Select' and also refer to it as a Black Peredovik type sunflower.
'Mammoth' grows upwards or 7 to 12 feet tall and produces flower heads worthy of the adjective mammoth since they become over 12 inches in diameter. Birds frequently will visit the ripening seed heads of this sunflower in the garden or field, plucking the seeds. Humans can roast the seeds for a tasty snack, too. When the seed heads are allowed to ripen and over-dry on the plant stalks, the seeds tend to shatter and scatter to the ground.
Also tall-growing, 'Kong' is good for bird food production since each stalk bears several large flowers, increasing the amount of seed heads per plant. This variety grows 8 to 10 feet tall with flowers occurring in the top 3 to 4 feet of the stalk. Each yellow blossom measures no larger than 6 inches in diameter.
In windy landscapes, you may choose a short-growing sunflower to prevent breakage or excessive leaning of stalks. 'Sunseed' grows only 4 to 5 feet tall and yields 12-inch seed heads that combine good flavor and oil content in the seeds. Thus, this dual-purpose sunflower variety can provide bird food as well as the occasional roasted snack for the family on a late summer afternoon.