7+ Animals That Eat Sunflowers [& How to Get Rid of Them!]

what animals eat sunflowers

Sunflowers are popular plants that can be grown in many parts of the world. These flowers are not only beautiful to look at, but they are also a source of food for a variety of animals. Sunflowers provide a valuable food source for both wildlife and livestock.

Let’s start off with one of the more obvious ones.

What Animals Eat Sunflowers?

While there are a wide variety of them, some of the more common animals that eat sunflowers and their seeds include birds, squirrels, mice, deer, rats, voles, and chipmunks. A lot of insects enjoy eating the sunflower plant, like spittlebugs, beetles, and weevils.

Let’s talk through each one and what you can do to get rid of or prevent these pests from coming around in the first place.

1. Birds

Birds are some of the most common animals that eat sunflowers.

Songbirds, such as sparrows and cardinals, love to eat the seeds of sunflowers. These birds often visit gardens and bird feeders to get their fix of sunflower seeds. In addition, many types of hawks and other raptors feed on the birds that do eat sunflowers, so you might see them hanging around your garden or feeder.

birds eating sunflowers

Most birds won’t bother your sunflowers until they are dried and ready to be picked.

What Birds Eat Sunflower Seeds?

Not every type of bird is going to each sunflower seeds, but there are quite a few that will. If you’re growing black oil sunflowers, then you might expect more birds to hang around your garden as many types prefer black oil sunflower seeds.

  • Chickadees – chickadees do eat sunflower seeds as well, whether they are in bird feeders or just on the plant.
  • Nuthatches
  • Grosbeaks
  • Cardinals
  • American Goldfinches
  • Mourning Doves
  • House Finch
  • Starlings
  • House Sparrows
  • Grackles
  • Juncos
  • Blue Jays
  • Woodpeckers – while not as common, woodpeckers will each sunflower seeds on occasion

Sunflower seeds will attract birds to your garden, so make sure to keep an eye on them.

How to Keep Birds Away From Sunflowers

If you’re growing sunflowers to save seeds or eat the seeds yourself, you’re not going to love seeing birds ravaging your plants. There are a few ways you can keep birds off your plants.

Bird Netting

One of the best ways to keep birds out of the garden is to use garden or bird netting. This might not be the most ideal method since sunflowers are so nice to look at, you probably don’t want to cover them at all. But that might be a tradeoff you want to take.

Scarecrow or Fake Hawk

The other option is to set up a fake owl or scarecrow in the garden. Many birds will try to avoid anywhere a hawk is in plain sight as they don’t want to be attacked.

Plastic Owl Scarecrow Sculpture

Fake owls are great for keeping many animals out of the garden, including squirrels, deer, birds, and more.

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Birds are pretty smart though, so you will want to move it regularly so they don’t get used to it.

2. Squirrels

Squirrels are also big fans of sunflower seeds. This is probably quite obvious if you’ve ever had to figure out how to keep squirrels off your bird feeder. Since sunflower seeds are common in bird feed, this means that you’ll have birds AND squirrels hanging around.

squirrels eating sunflower seeds

We have tons of trees in our yard, and I use to love watching the tree squirrels run around and go into their homes in the tree branches. But then the squirrels started eating my tomatoes, and I no longer loved seeing them around.

These rodents often bury nuts and seeds in the ground to save for later, and they will often dig up buried sunflower seeds to eat.

How to Keep Squirrels Away From Sunflowers

Protecting your sunflowers from squirrels can be a bit of a challenge since they’re very nimble, but there are a few good ways to do it.

Squirrel Netting

Squirrel netting (aka bird netting) is a great option for keeping squirrels away from your sunflowers. You can drape it over your sunflower plants to help keep birds and squirrels off of them.

You can also use some kind of aluminum screening bent over the top of the plants to save them from birds eating sunflower blooms.

3. Chipmunks

Chipmunks are another animal that loves sunflower seeds, so don’t be surprised to see them running around your garden.

chipmunks eating sunflower plants

Unlike squirrels, chipmunks don’t hibernate during the winter so they gather more than they need during the summer and fall and put them in burrows for storage.

Chipmunks climb the plants to get to the sunflower heads for seeds, so make sure you protect your sunflowers if you don’t want these little critters raiding your garden.

How to Keep Chipmunks Off Sunflowers

Unfortunately, keeping chipmunks off of your sunflowers is challenging as keeping squirrels off of them. Chipmunks love sunflower seeds, and they provide a lot of healthy fats for them.

Bird netting can do as well of a job for chipmunks as it does for squirrels.

It lays on top of your plants and makes it much more difficult for rodents and other pests to reach the seeds or parts of the plant they’re trying to eat.

4. Garden Mice, Voles & Rats

voles and sunflowers

Garden mice and voles are also culprits of eating sunflower seeds out of the garden. While these pests can climb the plants, they also will dig the newly planted garden seeds out of the ground as well.

If you’re not seeing sunflower seedlings sprout up out of the ground a few weeks after planting, you might have been robbed of the seeds. These rodents will eat corn and sunflower seeds, so that’s something to keep in mind as well.

How to Keep Mice From Eating Your Sunflowers

Simple answer: get a cat. 🙂 While that’s a great option, it’s not always doable.

Mice can be kept away with small barriers like a solid fence or

Companion planting is another great way to keep unwanted pests away. This is when you grow plants nearby that help the plant they’re near and vice versa. Since mice don’t love the smell of garlic or onions, you can plant your sunflowers near them. Sage is another great option with a pungent smell that deters pests.

The scarecrow method can work with mice, voles, and rats as well, as they will want to avoid places that have predators lurking.

5. Raccoons

raccoons

While raccoons won’t be the first to show up to eat your sunflowers, this is a definitely possibility. If they get hungry enough, they will eat seeds, nuts and other plants in your garden.

How to Keep Raccoons From Eating Your Sunflowers

There are a few methods for keeping raccoons out of the garden. Wind chimes, laser red eyes (that simulate a predator at night), and motion activated sprinklers work great.

Motion Activated Sprinkler

Raccoons get scared by loud noises and sudden movements, making this option a great one.

Motion activated sprinklers are one of my favorite ways to keep all kinds of animals out of my garden.

Pro Tip: Get a trail cam as well and watch your new tool in action!

6. Deer

Yes, deer do eat sunflowers. Sunflowers are a good source of food for deer because they are high in nutrients like protein and fat. Deer will also eat the leaves of the sunflower plant.

deer eating flowers

Deer will eat many types of flowers, and sunflowers is a big one for them.

How to Keep Deer from Eating Sunflowers

There are a few things you can do to keep deer from eating your sunflowers. The sprinkler I mentioned above works great for keeping these pests out of the garden as well.

Fencing

Planting sunflowers in a garden that is enclosed by a fence at least 8 feet tall is really the only foolproof way to keep them from eating your sunflowers seeds.

A 4 foot fence is like a fun obstacle they can jump over easily.

Scents and Smells

Another method for keeping deer out of the garden is Irish Spring soap. It sounds weird, but they will usually stay pretty far away from that scent.

Other than that, you can spray a chili pepper spray on the sunflowers to help protect them. Once they get a small taste of the pepper, they’re likely going to move on to another food source.

7. Rabbits

rabbits eat sunflowers

Rabbits eat garden plants like tomatoes and carrots, but they have also been known to eat sunflowers, the flowers, stalks and seeds. Of course, they won’t be able to reach the seeds, but they would eat the seeds a bird dropped seeds or the plant falls over. How to Keep Rabbits From Eating Your Sunflowers

How to Keep Rabbits From Eating Your Sunflowers

Rabbits love to eat garden plants when they can’t find enough clover around their nests. One great way to protect your sunflowers are to plant their favorites elsewhere.

I have a ton of clover in my yard and this does help a lot. They are always over by the clover, and seem to leave my other plants alone (for the most part). It’s not foolproof, but it helps quite a bit.

Motion Activated Sprinkler

This is one of my favorite ways to keep all kinds of animals out of my garden. You set up the sprinkler in the direction of the plants you’re trying to protect. If it senses any kind of motion it will spray water a pretty decent pressure too.

This does work on humans, which is great for keeping sneaky neighbors away, but don’t forget to turn it off before you head to your garden in the morning!

Pro Tip: Get a trail cam as well and watch your new tool in action!

8. Insects and Other Pests

Sunflowers are great for bringing bees and other beneficial insects around your garden, but they also attract some not-so-great insects as well.

Spittlebugs are the first one I was no-so-lucky to find on my sunflowers last season. They’re not very noticeable, but what they leave behind is.

spittlebugs foamy substance

Spittlebug nymphs leave behind this weird foamy substance that honestly looks like human spit.

Some other sunflower bugs include:

  • Seed weevils
  • Aphids
  • Cutworms
  • Beetles

How to Repel Insects From Your Sunflowers

There are a variety of insects that love eating sunflowers, but how do you keep the ones that harm the plants away? I will be using neem oil this year to keep spittlebugs, aphids, and mites to a minimum. I’ve used this one other plants in the past and it works great, but I never got around to spraying my sunflowers with it before the spittlebugs arrived.

Organic Neem Bliss - 100% Pure Neem Oil
You can use this stuff on all kinds of insects in your garden, but this year I'll be using this to keep spittlebugs off of my sunflowers for sure. strong This is my favorite organic option for aphids, spider mites, and tomato worms as well.
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Sunflowers Are Loved By Many Animals

Sunflowers produce seeds that are a valuable food source for many different types of wild animals. They offer a good amount of fat that animals need for survival during the winter.

By growing these plants in your garden, you can provide a source of food for local wildlife. Not only will you help to feed the animals in your area (whether or not that is your goal!), but you will also enjoy the beauty of these flowers.

You can plant sunflowers near other vegetables and plants that deter animals and pests, but at the end of the day you might need to use more reinforcements.

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