Every year I love to grow sunflowers in my garden. I plant a variety of colors and sizes, joyfully anticipating that late summer riot of brilliant blooms. But the ultimate goal for those golden flowers is the food they’ll provide for the birds in winter. If the squirrels don’t get them first, that is! So to protect the seed heads from damage, I gather them in early autumn, complete with stems, and bring them inside to dry.
This winter I forgot I still had the sunflowers until early February. Good timing, though, because by then a lot of the natural food sources had been depleted, and there was a fair bit of snow cover. The hungry birds would welcome those high-energy snacks. I set out the seed heads at the shrubby edge of my yard, then sat back to watch the entertainment and wait for some great photo ops.
It wasn’t long before they’d been discovered by the local Black-capped Chickadees—feisty little survivors, constantly on the move, full of curiosity, with appetites to match their boundless energy. My winter chickadee flock must number in the dozens, but each seemed to know its place in the pecking order and would wait its turn to fly in, pry out a seed, and make off with it. There were two individuals, though, that were pretty evenly matched. Whenever they arrived together there would be a flurry of tiny wings and excited calls as they bickered over who would have first dibs.
Next Tufted Titmice arrived to share the feast. In the video, watch how a titmouse raises its crest, appearing to intimidate its smaller chickadee cousin during a brief face-off. During a heavy snowstorm, Dark-eyed Juncos also joined the sunflower birds. Juncos prefer smaller seeds and usually forage on the ground, which was now thickly blanketed with snow. Notice that the junco isn’t quite up to the job of extracting the large seeds. That’s a task at which the more acrobatic chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches excel.
Sunflowers—summer beauty and winter entertainment!