Tuesday, July 7, 2015

What's Eating My Sunflower?

Yesterday morning, I went outside to take a look at my sunflowers and saw that many of them appeared damaged. The petals were pulled off and scattered on the ground. The central disk, full of beautiful flowers ready to be fertilized into seeds, was half chewed away. What could be causing this?

My sunflowers are planted in two spots in the garden. The first section of sunflowers flanks a southern-facing wall of my home. Deer don't venture that close to the house, and neither do squirrels. The other section of sunflowers is in my vegetable garden, which is fenced off and so far (knock wood) the deer haven't found it yet. So what's eating my sunflowers?

Channeling my inner Sherlock Holmes, I decided to visit the garden again later this morning. Very quickly the culprit was revealed: the American Goldfinch.

This little bird, about the size of the sparrow, loves seeds. Flocks of goldfinch are descending on my sunflowers. Without waiting for the seeds to form, or perhaps enjoying the nascent seeds developing amidst the sunflowers, they're pulling the petals off and pecking with their sharp beaks at the sunflowers.  My flowers look like this:

Sunflower pecked apart by visiting goldfinches.

You know, as far as problems go, this is one problem I actually don't mind having. Yes, my sunflowers look bedraggled. Yes, the seeds I carefully dry and store to feed the birds in the winter are already consumed. Well, at least they're going to their intended customers! I normally dry the sunflower heads and hang them up among the trees on my property for the wintertime birds, but if they want to eat them now....well, what's a gardener to do?

It just goes to show you that not every "problem" with your flowers is caused by insects or by diseases. Sometimes animals and birds leave their mark on your garden, too. You can scare birds away with various devices, but even my cat, chattering away at the goldfinches from behind the safety of the windows, doesn't deter the hungry birds. I'll just chalk this one up to the birds and let them enjoy the feast!


  1. The goldfinches here go after my coneflowers and not the sunflowers, maybe because they prefer thistle seeds like the coneflowers, or maybe because I grow dwarf sunflowers close to the house (they prefer open areas.) If did not have coneflowers, they might turn to the sunflowers. Your petals are picked off partly to make it easy to get to the seeds. I learned that goldfinches nest and raise their young at this time of year. Go figure.

  2. Follow up - for the first time, the goldfinches discovered my sunflowers after I wrote my comment in July. And boy did they make a mess of them. (Posted about it.)