June 19, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 12 June 2008 14:55
Chuck Merten of South Salem has a question a lot of readers have been wondering about, dealing with the cost of sunflower seeds, especially hearts. “Do you know what is driving the price to unaffordable levels?” he asks. “Any information and suggestions will be much appreciated.”
According to Kermit Wilfon, director of marketing for Wild Birds Unlimited in Indianapolis, the price of birdseed is being driven up by the anti-trans-fat movement and the growing use of seeds in ethanol-based fuels. Sunflower seeds are very rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids as well as other things that are good for you — which is why birds love them.
From what I read, sunflower farmers are quite happy about the growing popularity of their crop and the prices they can get for it.
As for the consumer, there are two things you can do about the higher cost:
_ Accept that sunflower prices, like prices for many foods and for gasoline, are higher, but search for bargains.
_ Downgrade your feed.
If you stick with sunflower seeds, shop carefully. Some places are charging $2 a pound for sunflower hearts, but you can find them at $1.60 a pound or less in 50-pound bags. Sunflower “chips” — broken seed hearts — are slightly less, $1.50 a pound at one supplier, maybe less elsewhere.
Whole black oil sunflower seeds are less inexpensive, and you can find 50-pound bags at $31, or 62 cents a pound.
Is the difference between whole and shelled seeds worth the price? That’s up to the buyer, but the benefits of hulled seeds are worth considering.
When you buy sunflower seeds with shells on them, part of what you are paying for is waste. About 15% of the weight of the seed is in the shell, so for every dollar you spend, 15 cents is wasted. That’s far from enough to make hulled seeds a financially attractive alternative, but it does narrow the price gap a bit.
Then, too, there is the mess that the shells can make under a busy feeder as the birds discard them. Sunflower seed shells contain a mild herbicide that can kill the grass under the feeder.
Oh, and if your time is important, feeders do not need to be refilled as often when you are using hearts. My experience has been that “chips” last longest in a feeder because they fill it so compactly and efficiently.
The final difference is perhaps the most important and the most difficult to “price.” Sunflower hearts will attract birds that sunflower seeds with shells won’t. Before we switched to hearts, for instance, we never had bluebirds on our feeder. Now they show up each winter. Red-bellied Woodpeckers seem to love hearts and shun shells. Some birds’ beaks are just not equipped to deal with opening the shell of a sunflower seed.
The other option, “downgrading,” means buying seed mixtures. Mixes typically contain millet and cracked corn along with sunflower seeds. My experience has been that most of our birds eat the sunflower seeds, many eat the corn, and many toss the millet on the ground (although I hear Painted Buntings love millet).
In buying mixes, watch the percentages of sunflower seeds they contain. Cheap mixes will have only a few sunflower seeds — some much less than 10%.
There’s another kind of mix worth considering: Sunflower blend. At least one outfit, Shafer Seed Company, makes what it calls “premium sunflower blend,” which contains both whole sunflower seeds and sunflower heart chips. At $21 for 25 pounds, or 84 cents a pound, it could be an ideal compromise.
I don’t know where Shafer or similar blend products might be found locally — perhaps readers can offer suggestions. You can acquire them on the Web, but you can also expect to pay shipping.
Bird Nests and Families, for all ages, Saturday, June 14, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., Audubon Greenwich, 613 Riversville Road, Greenwich, sign up at 203-869-5272 x239.
Brunch and Birding, on Connecticut River aboard RiverQuest, Sunday, June 29, 9 to noon, from Essex, $65, Connecticut Audubon, 860-767-0660
Sharon Audubon Festival, walks, raptors, demonstrations, music, food, activities, and displays, Aug. 9 and 10, 9 to 5, Sharon Audubon Center, 325 Cornwall Bridge Road, Sharon, Conn., 860-364-0520.
HawkWatch Weekend Festival, bird-themed workshops, walks, games, shows, raptor counting, ‘green’ vendors, and much more, Sept. 13 and 14, Audubon Greenwich and Quaker Ridge Bird Club, 613 Riversville Road, Greenwich, 203-869-5272 x239.
Bird walks with Luke Tiller, mostly Saturdays at 8 a.m., $10 each; to register, www. sunrisebirding. com/ walks.htm; 203-981-9924, luke.tiller @ gmail.com.
First Sundays, birding at Greenwich Point with Meredith Sampson of Wild Wings, and other guides, meet at the second concession stand, 203-637-9822.
Bird walks, first Saturday at 7:45 a.m., free, meet at Wild Bird Center of Norwalk, 335 Westport Avenue (Route 1), www. wildbird. com/ Norwalk, 203-846-BIRD.
Copyright (c) 2008 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] yahoo.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877; or call 203-438-1183, extension BIRD (2473), and leave a message with your report, spelling your first and last names and telling us your town. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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