Temperatures are falling and gardens are ripening, including a bird garden patch in the backyard. That birds love sunflower seed is no surprise, but while they may enjoy dry seed offered in a feeder, they're positively ecstatic over fresh seeds ripening on the plants. In the spring, I initially planted thirteen sunflower seeds -- simply picked from a random bag of birdseed -- and with regular waterings, eleven of them sprouted and grew into generous plants with multiple seeding flower heads. In addition to the seeds I planted, two more plants grew at the side of the driveway where random seeds blew during summer storms.
The largest heads measures more than twelve inches in diameter and have hundreds of seeds for the birds to enjoy. Because of their weight, the largest heads bow and become virtually unreachable, even for the most agile birds. To offer them as special treats, every few days I clip off the flowers and set them on the concrete wall so the birds can easily access them. It certainly doesn't take long for them to discover the heads and strip them as clean as the feeders. House finches, sparrows, and scrub jays have all partaken from the garden, and the smaller birds are particularly adept at finding seeds. In preparation for next spring, I have already chosen the plumpest seeds from one of the largest heads and have stored them in a glass jar in a dry, dark area to keep them safe for future planting.
Growing these sunflowers has an additional benefit for the birds. The plants grow quickly and with enough strength for the birds to land upon them, providing summer cover and shelter among a rich feed source. This is why I've not trimmed the plants and won't until all the seed heads have been removed. For as long as possible, I want the birds to be able to enjoy this autumn bounty of delicious seeds, and they're certainly doing their best to ravish the feast. This is a simple project anyone can do at the side of a flowerbed, in a garden, or even in a planter, and its rewards are generous. The birds can enjoy the bounty, and the birdwatchers enjoy not only beautiful flowers and the company of birds, but also a selection of fresh, free seed to nourish their flocks. The sun may be setting on summer, but it's just rising on the harvest for backyard birders.