Although most gardeners plan to share the seeds with wildlife at the end of the season, they want to enjoy their sunflowers first. Unfortunately, enjoying them sometimes means chasing away the animals that want to eat the flowers before you’re ready to share them. But what animals eat sunflowers, and what can you do to stop them?
Many animals eat sunflowers, but you can keep most of them away by installing fences, placing motion-activated sprinklers in your garden, and utilizing plants and smells that each animal dislikes. Some of the most common sunflower thieves include:
Continue reading as we explore the many animals that could attack your garden and how you can identify what’s eating your sunflowers. Let’s get to it!
Crows Love Eating Sunflowers
I know. The thought of a large bovine frolicking in a field of sunflowers is enough to make anyone chuckle. But, as it turns out, cows can, and will, enjoy snacking on sunflowers from time to time.
While this may come as a surprise to many of us, the idea is not a new one. Several studies have compared sunflower silage and corn silage to see if sunflowers would be a more cost-effective cow feed.
According to a study by the State College of Washington, sunflower silage was a suitable alternative to corn in areas where corn doesn’t grow as well as sunflowers. However, sunflower silage appeared to be less palatable to cows when compared to corn.
Despite this, cows can often be found munching on sunflowers and will eat the entire plant. In fact, they enjoy it so much that some clever farmers will use cows to mow down a sunflower field to reduce organic waste in the soil.
But what does this mean for you?
If you have cattle near your yard and have been wondering what’s eating your sunflowers, there’s a good chance the bovines might be to blame. Luckily, it’s usually pretty easy to determine if cows are the culprit.
How To Protect Your Sunflowers From Cows
The good news is that if cows are to blame, it should be easy to stop them from eating your sunflowers. Simply keep cows out of the areas where your sunflowers are growing.
Sometimes this sounds easier than it actually is. For example, if the cows aren’t yours, you won’t have control over where they roam.
You might also have Houdini cows that break free from their pasture. What then?
The most obvious solution is to place fencing around the plants you don’t want the cows to attack. This way, even if the Houdini’s escape, your sunflowers will be safe. Fences like this High Metal Pet Fencing can keep animals away from your precious flowers.
It should be noted that cows are big and can quickly push down a fence if they know something tasty is on the other side. For this reason, it can be a good idea to use a wall that limits the cows’ view of the sunflowers.
Another solution is to keep plants far away from enclosures. Cows can reach quite a ways past a barricade, and if they’re trying to reach for something, there’s a good chance they’ll weaken the fence over time.
Keep your cattle well fed, so they don’t feel the need to plot a prison break. What would you do if you were a hungry cow stuck in a muddy pasture and saw a beautiful patch of delicious yellow flowers?
Finally, a trained cattle dog is a good idea if your cows frequently escape. Not only will the dog help keep cows away from your gardens, but they can alert you if the cattle break free; before they mow down your flowers.
If you’d like more detail, take a look at our piece on how to scare crows away for good!
Deer Routinely Eat Sunflower Plants
Yes, deer love munching on sunflowers because the plants are rich in the vitamins and minerals that deer depend on to survive cold winters. Unfortunately, unlike cows, deer aren’t often confined to a pasture and are free to wander into backyards and gardens.
Sunflower seeds are rich in zinc, thiamin, vitamin E, and choline. Additionally, the seeds found in the head of a sunflower plant are rich in fiber and contain various oils and fats deer need to survive cold, barren winters.
Deer most often eat the young buds and flower heads of sunflowers instead of the leaves.
However, just because they don’t prefer the leaves doesn’t mean they won’t eat them if that’s all they can reach.
Although deer can be active any time of the day, you’re most likely to see them feeding in the early morning and evening hours. They may also sneak into your yard at night to access gardens because humans are less present at night.
It’s difficult to know what kind of animal destroys your sunflowers. Especially if the damage is happening at night. So how can you tell if deer are eating your sunflowers?
If you notice the leaves are ripped instead of nibbled, and the flower buds are gone, there’s a good chance your sunflowers are being eaten by deer. Deer tracks and scat may also be present.
How To Keep Deer Away From Your Sunflowers
The best way to keep deer away from your flowers is to build a high, sturdy fence. Fences that shield your garden from view are best because animals won’t be tempted to come into your garden if they don’t know it’s there.
But a proper barricade can be expensive. So what can you do if you can’t afford a fence?
Since deer are easily spooked, you can use a motion sensor sprinkler to keep a herd away from your sunflowers. Motion sensor lights and sound machines also work.
If you’re looking for a cruelty-free way to keep deer away from your sunflowers, check out this Motion Activated Sprinkler from Orbit. It sprays the deer with a hard jet of water whenever it sense them!
Another way to keep weary deer out of your gardens is to use human scents. Some gardeners place human hair around plants to keep deer away, while others sprinkle coffee grounds around the perimeter of their lawn.
You can also mix plants the deer don’t like in with your sunflowers. Depending on what will grow in your area, there are many plants you can use to repel deer. For example, planting prickly flowers or bushes near sunflowers may keep deer away.
Another clever trick is to use a standard bar of soap to keep deer away from certain areas of your lawn and garden. To learn how to do this yourself, check out how soap is used to repel deer in our detailed article!
In addition to soap, you can use scents that deer hate to keep them out of certain areas of your yard. Some of these scents include lavender, rosemary, peppermint, and garlic. For a complete list, check out our list of the 11 Scents That Deer Hate.
Goats Eat Sunflowers Whenever They Can
You’ve probably heard the old saying that goats will eat anything in their path—including the shirt off your back. But do they eat sunflowers?
Goats eat sunflowers and consume the entire plant, including the leaves, stalk, and flower heads.
Goats are curious animals. They get into everything if given a chance, which is probably why they have gotten a reputation for putting everything in their mouth. Despite this, most goats are really picky about what they will and will not eat.
Sunflowers have a lot of valuable vitamins and nutrients that goats need to grow and develop. The vitamins and minerals found in sunflowers can promote bone growth and a healthy immune system.
In addition to providing energy and other immune support, gardeners will often feed sunflowers to their goats to promote healthier coats and improve milk production. However, like all good things, moderation is key.
Depending on the goats’ species and the sunflower type, goats may develop digestive issues if they eat sunflowers regularly. So, if you’ve noticed your sunflowers are being consumed, and your goats have become fussy eaters, they’re likely eating your flowers.
How To Stop Goats From Eating Your sunflowers
Fences are the best way to keep larger animals away from flower and vegetable gardens. And choosing the right fence is essential to minimize injury to the animals.
Experts usually recommend sturdy barricades to keep goats from pushing them down. Mesh fencing can work, but goats might become tangled in the fence if they loosen or knock it down.
Fences should be tall enough to keep goats from jumping over them and short enough to minimize injury to goats who try to jump the barricade. The fences should stand at least four feet tall.
Additionally, the holes in the fence should be less than four inches wide. It’s common for goats to stick their head through the small square holes, but they may become stuck and injure themselves if they can’t get back out. Small holes keep goats from getting their heads through.
Use a spray repellent around your garden to keep goats from eating your plants. Please read the ingredients and directions carefully since some sprays should not be used on edible plants.
If you want to keep multiple animals and pests away from your garden, check out this Natural Peppermint Animal Spray.
Don’t allow goats to wander around your lawn and garden. It might seem cruel to keep them caged, but keeping the animals away from your plants and flowers will be much more challenging if you allow them to roam freely.
If you let them out of their pen, supervise them. If you want to let your goats out from time to time, keep a close eye on the animals. Not only could they run away or get hurt, but some plants they eat could be toxic to them.
Utilize unpleasant smells in areas that you don’t want goats visiting. Check out our complete list of scents that goats hate and how to use them!
Raccoons Eat Sunflower Plants When Needed
Raccoons are another animal with a reputation for eating almost anything. But are they eating your sunflowers?
Raccoons rarely go after sunflowers. However, if they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat the seeds out of the flower heads, which could cause a lot of destruction in your sunflower garden.
Raccoons are omnivores. Omnivores eat both plants and animals, and raccoons eat a wide variety of both.
In the wild, their diet typically consists of various fruits, nuts, seeds, insects, reptiles, and aquatic animals. They’re also known to raid bird nests and eat the eggs of several species.
Although raccoons can often be found stealing sunflower seeds from backyard bird feeders, they usually won’t go after a sunflower unless they’re starving. Still, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
If you notice something is pulling the flowers down and eating the seeds at night, it might be raccoons.
Other signs of raccoon activity include:
- Five-toed paw prints (usually found in pairs)
- Raccoon droppings (appearance can change depending on the animal’s diet)
- Scratch marks around the area
- Signs of looting in garbage cans and other containers
How To Raccoons From Eating Your Sunflowers
Your first step should be removing the things attracting raccoons to your yard. Sunflowers themselves typically won’t attract raccoons on their own. If you have raccoons in your yard, something else is probably drawing them.
To find out what might bring raccoons to your property, check out our list of things that attract raccoons.
One option is to use motion-activated lights and sound systems to deter unwanted raccoons from your garden. This Motion Activated Voice Player allows you to record whatever you want to scare the animals away.
You can also use scents that raccoons dislike to keep them away from your plants. Some smells that raccoons hate include peppermint, garlic, vinegar, and other animal urine. Blood meal is also commonly used to keep raccoons away because they associate the smell with predators. Here’s our full detailed list of scents that raccoons hate.
Additionally, you should give them another source of food. While this isn’t highly recommended because you don’t want to attract more raccoons, it might be necessary for areas where you cannot eliminate the animals entirely. Try to pick a spot near the edge of your property.
If you have a fence, use fence spikes to keep raccoons from climbing over barricades. Because raccoons are super agile, they can climb most fences. However, placing bird spikes on walls and fences can sometimes deter the animals from climbing over.
These Fence Spikes from EcoGrowth can help keep birds, cats, raccoons, and other rodents from climbing over fences to access your sunflowers.
Now, if worse comes to worse, have the animal professionally relocated. Some states have laws that make it illegal to relocate raccoons on your own, so make sure to check with wildlife control pro.
You should always contact a local professional in your area if you have recurring raccoons nearby!
Bears Can Eat Sunflowers On Occasion
The last thing you might expect to see out your front window is a big old bear lumbering around in your sunflower garden, but is that possible? Do bears eat sunflowers?
Though it’s rare, bears could very well be eating your sunflowers. Bears are omnivores, and in the spring and summer months, they’ll eat a variety of flowers and flowering plants.
Although most gardeners admit they’ve never had a problem with bears eating their sunflowers, it’s not entirely unheard of. In fact, according to a fact sheet created by Michigan State University, black bears are well known for destroying a variety of crops, including corn and sunflowers.
Bears will often raid backyard feeders to get sunflower seeds. And since they eat plants, including several types of flowers, it only makes sense that bears would be attracted to sunflowers since they love the seeds.
But how can you tell if a bear is eating your sunflowers?
Bears are big and can weigh anywhere from 130 to over 1000 pounds. So, if you have a bear in your flower garden, you’ll know it. There will be significant damage to your garden, including plants that have been trampled and mowed down.
Since it’s the protein-packed seed they’re after, they would likely eat the head of the flower and leave the stalks behind. You might also notice bear tracks and scat around your lawn.
How To Stop Bears From Snacking On Your Sunflowers
You might be tempted to let the bear have your flowers since going head-to-head with a bear is not on anybody’s to-do list. But we’ve got some suggestions that might help you save your sunflowers.
Your first option is to install a fence around your yard. Bears are very capable of climbing and may be able to scale certain walls and fences. However, they won’t usually go through the effort unless they know for sure there’s something they want on the other side.
Having a barricade could help deter bears from entering your yard in the first place.
You can also remove things that attract bears to your yard. Since they’re so large, bears need to spend a lot of time foraging for food and will be attracted to your yard if it offers them something to eat.
Berry bushes, beehives, garbage, bird feeders, compost, and other food sources should be removed if you want to keep bears away.
Read through this list of 11 scents that attract bears to ensure you’ve removed all of them from your property.
Make sure to keep your farm animals and pets secure at night. In addition to plants and grasses, bears also eat meat. Having chickens or other animals roaming free in the evening might attract the attention of a hungry bear.
Yes, Squirrels Go Nuts For Sunflowers!
Squirrels are one of those animals you either love or love to hate. We already know they love to rob sunflower seeds from bird feeders, but will squirrels eat the actual sunflower?
Yes, squirrels can and will eat your sunflowers. What’s worse, they’re not even considerate about it.
Unlike some animals that will eat a seed or two here and there, squirrels often take the entire flower. Once the bud grows, the animals scurry up the stalk, chew the stem beneath the flower, and run away with the entire flower head.
If this is too much work, they’ll slowly break the flower head apart to get to the seeds instead. Either way, the flowers that you worked hard to raise are doomed.
Signs that prove squirrels are responsible include seeing the squirrels climbing the stalks, missing sunflower heads, sunflower heads on the ground around your garden, and empty sunflower shells scattered beneath the plants.
Stopping Squirrels From Eating Your Sunflowers
Keeping squirrels at bay is hard work. The clever critters are good at finding a way around any situation. Especially if there’s a prize for them at the end. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to keep them away from your sunflowers.
Mainly, you’ll want to keep young plants covered. Your sunflower might be vulnerable to squirrels even before the bud grows on the flower. That’s because the rodents will sometimes dig up previously planted sunflower seeds.
Covering plants with mesh or wire netting can help minimize damage to your flowers. These Reusable Dome-Screen Umbrellas are perfect for keeping squirrels and insects away from growing plants.
You can also plant thorny plants at the base of the sunflowers. This only works when squirrels just have one way to get to the sunflower: by climbing up the stalk. If they have a place they can jump from, they’ll learn to do that instead.
Still, it’s worth a shot. Some of the best prickly plants include:
- Porcupine tomato
- Berry bushes
Here are a few other options to consider:
- Spray plants with hot sauce. Many gardeners use this trick to keep squirrels from eating the seeds. Simply spray a mixture of hot sauce and water on the head of the flower. Be sure to re-apply it after it rains, and rinse any seeds you harvest. Here’s our detailed guide on using hot pepper to repel squirrels.
- Fashion a cone around the flower. Placing a large cone underneath the flower prevents squirrels from accessing the seeds. They won’t be able to get past the cone. However, this only works on large, mature plants that won’t bend easily.
- Give the animals a more leisurely meal. It’s unlikely that a squirrel will choose to scale a sunflower stalk if there’s a food source on the ground. This will only work if you keep the dish full. Because as soon as the easy-to-reach food is gone, they’ll turn their attention back to your flowers.
- Get a dog or cat. Having an animal that will instinctively chase the squirrels can keep the rodents off your property for good. Please don’t adopt a pet for this reason and mistreat it. This should only be done if you’re able and willing to give the orphaned animal a safe and loving home.
- Mulch your plants with stones. If you’ve tried to plant sunflowers in a container, only to have squirrels promptly dig the seeds up, try adding stone mulch to the pot. This will make it hard for the squirrels to find and retrieve the planted seeds.
- Plant sunflowers away from trees, fences, and porches. All the netting and cones in the world won’t protect your flowers if squirrels have a way to jump onto them from above. Planting sunflowers in an open area will help you protect them in the future. Take a peak at our piece on the things that attract squirrels to your yard!
- Consider adding a greenhouse to your property. A greenhouse could be the perfect solution if you have multiple plants to protect. Having your flowers in a protected environment will make it easier to control who can and cannot access them.
Lastly, you can consider using more of the scents that squirrels hate around your garden if you want another natural repellent option!
Birds Love To Eat Sunflowers
We already know that birds eat sunflower seeds in backyard feeders, but do birds eat the flowers while they’re growing?
Yes, many types of birds are well known for eating sunflowers. In fact, many bird enthusiasts will plant sunflowers for their backyard companions because they provide essential protein and fats that the birds need to survive the winter.
Although different species like different types, almost every bird will eat sunflower seeds. The vast majority of birds prefer black oil sunflower seeds because the shells are thin and the seeds are easy to digest.
Why do birds love sunflower seeds so much? It all comes back to the seeds’ nutritional value. Unlike humans, wild animals don’t eat for pleasure—they eat to survive.
They need to make the most of their fuel by eating foods that replace and replenish the energy they use while foraging.
Sunflower seeds are great because they don’t take a lot of energy to digest and are often available for birds to find.
Signs that birds are the ones eating your sunflowers include:
- Seedlings being dug up or plucked from the soil
- Damage to the head of flowers
- Seeds missing from flowers
- Empty sunflower seed shells on the ground around the plant
- Bird droppings near or on the plants
- Minimal damage to leaves and stalks, with most of the damage focused on the flower head
Some gardeners have reported birds eating the sunflower leaves. Although this is rare, researchers believe it happens because certain species need extra vitamins and minerals during the breeding season.
Stopping Birds From Nibbling On Your Sunflowers
Protecting your sunflowers from birds is a bit more complicated because, unlike animals on the ground, birds can access your flowers from above. So what can you do to keep birds away from your sunflowers?
- Cover newly planted seeds with hay or mulch. This layer of protection can keep birds from digging up and eating seeds. However, this only protects plants until they grow through the barrier.
- Use row covers to protect young flowers from birds. Row covers like these 10×33 Ultra Fine Mesh Barriers prevent birds from digging up newly planted seeds or seedlings. They’re thick enough to keep birds away while still allowing sunshine and rain to get through.
- Build a box around flowers and cover it with wire fencing. This doesn’t look as nice as a freestanding flower garden, but it will protect sunflowers from soaring predators if you’re growing the flowers to harvest.
- Add decoy predators to your garden to scare birds away. Adding scarecrows and decoy predators may scare birds away from your garden. Unfortunately, birds are intelligent and might realize it’s a fake when it never moves.
Using decoys with motion, like this Plastic Decoy Owl with a Rotating Head, makes it less likely for birds to become used to the decoy. Hawk and owl sounds can also be played to keep birds guessing.
- Place bird feeders around your lawn, away from flower gardens. By installing bird feeders on the perimeter of your property, you may lure animals away from your flowers. Just make sure you’re not attracting more sunflower predators into your yard.
- Place items that move with the wind in your garden to startle birds. You’ve probably noticed that birds are easily spooked. You can take advantage of this by placing things that move in your garden.
Streamers, spinners, balloons, and even plastic bags can be used to frighten birds.
If you have kids, get them involved by asking them to draw faces on balloons. Then, simply inflate the balloons and put them in your flower garden!
- Get an outdoor cat. Please don’t do this unless you have the time and devotion to give to a new pet. If you’re able to provide a loving home, an outdoor cat can scare birds away from, well, everything.
Rabbits Eat Every Part Of Sunflowers
It makes sense for an animal that eats sunflower seeds to eat sunflowers. But what about animals that rarely eat seeds? Rabbits are well known for eating many types of leafy plants, but do they eat sunflowers?
Rabbits will eat almost every part of a sunflower, including the petals, seeds, leaves, and stalks. Although their reach is impaired by limited movement, they’ll eat any part of the sunflower they can reach.
Rabbits don’t wander long distances, and once they settle in an area, they’ll likely spend the rest of their lives there. Because they reproduce so fast, one rabbit can quickly turn into multiple rabbits.
Unfortunately, it’s not just sunflowers that gardeners have to worry about. Rabbits eat a wide variety of weeds, grasses, flowers, bushes, and plants. In the winter, they’ll also eat the buds, bark, and twigs of some bushes and trees.
Signs of rabbit damage to sunflowers include:
- Leaves that have been nibbled from the outside in instead of torn
- Petals that have been partially nibbled
- The flower heads are completely missing the petals
- The buds have been chewed off at a 45-degree angle
You can also look for other signs of rabbit activity in your garden, which include:
- Rabbit tracks (the two back feet will be larger than the front feet)
- Rabbit scat (small round pellets)
- Signs of chewing on wood and trees
- Something eating the twigs and bark of nearby trees and bushes
Since they reproduce so fast and eat such a wide variety of plants, rabbits have earned a bad reputation among gardeners everywhere.
How To Stop Rabbits From Eating Your Sunflowers
Trying to stop a hungry rabbit from feeding on your plants and flowers is difficult because they’re so persistent. Luckily, there are some things you can do to make your plants less desirable to rabbits.
- Install wire fences around your garden. Rabbits can climb certain barricades but will often choose not to. Instead, they’ll try to burrow under it rather than climb over it. For this reason, fences that go into the ground at least six inches are often recommended.
- Reduce or eliminate areas where rabbits might make their home. Most rabbit species live in underground burrows, but they like areas where these homes are well protected. Since they stay near their home, eliminating nesting areas near your garden can help.
You can make your lawn less desirable by removing debris, raking up leaves, and cleaning areas where branches and twigs have fallen. Keeping fields mowed can also reduce rabbit activity near your home.
- Use scents that naturally deter rabbits in your garden. This can include plants and essential oils. Rabbits have a good sense of smell and usually avoid scents they don’t like, such as garlic, sulfur, lavender, blood meal, and predator urine. You can check out our full list of scents that rabbits hate here.
Mixing blood meal and predator urine will almost always keep rabbits from entering an area because they associate those two smells with a predator’s hunting grounds. However, blood meal could attract these predators to your lawn, so be sure to use it carefully.
For more tips, check out this list of 7 Easy Ways to Naturally Get Rid of Rabbits.
What Other Animals Might Be Eating Your Sunflowers?
Regarding sunflower damage, the animals above are the most common culprits. However, they’re not the only ones who enjoy a sunflower snack from time to time.
Any animal that eats sunflower seeds might attack your sunflowers. These include:
These animals are typically interested in the seeds and won’t usually damage other parts of the sunflower plant.
On the other hand, any animal whose diet consists primarily of leaves and flowers might be eating your sunflowers. These animals include:
If these animals attack your flowers, you’ll notice leaf and petal damage, but the seeds will often be left untouched.
How Can I Tell What’s Eating My Sunflowers?
A lot of animals cause similar damage to plants. Unless you catch the animal red-handed, it can be hard to determine what’s eating your sunflowers. Use the tips below to help you figure out what’s turning your flower garden into an all-you-can-eat buffet.
- Research backyard animals in your location. Obviously, the culprits will be limited to the type of animals in your area. For example, if you live in Maine, kangaroos probably aren’t to blame.
- Note which animals you see in your yard. Simply watching your yard for a week or so should give you an idea of what type of animals are around. In addition to wildlife, note domesticated animals as well.
Does your neighbor have goats? Do you have cows?
- Find out what these animals eat. Don’t rule any animal out before researching its diet. For example, rabbits are well known for eating carrots, but in reality, they’re more apt to eat a sunflower plant than to dig up a carrot field.
Learning what each animal eats may shock you and help determine who is consuming your flowers.
- Look for tracks and scat around your property. Some animals come out at night or are great at avoiding people. For these animals, tracks and scat might be the only way to know if they are visiting your yard.
- Install a game camera. If you want to know for sure who’s eating your flowers, install a trail camera. Motion-sensor cameras like this Day and Night Vision Trail Camera will show you precisely who is devouring your flowers.
That’s A Wrap!
There’s something special about planting a tiny seed and watching it turn into a beautiful plant or flower. Knowing that you and nature worked together to create something so beautiful is an indescribable feeling. So it’s no wonder most people feel protective when it comes to their gardens.
Building fences and greenhouses, utilizing scents that deter animals, and adding motion-activated sprinklers and decoys to your garden are just a few ways that you can protect your plants.
Remember, animals aren’t trying to destroy your hard work. They’re simply trying to survive. And sunflowers offer a lot of the nutrients they need to do just that. If you want to get the most out of your plants and flowers, consider donating them to the animals after you’ve finished admiring their beauty.
Dolbeer, R. A., Holler, N. R., & Hawthorne, D. W. (1994). Identification and assessment of wildlife damage: an overview. The handbook: Prevention and control of wildlife damage, 2.
Schafer, E. G., & Westley, R. O. (1921). Sunflower production for silage (No. 162). State College of Washington, Agricultural Experiment Station.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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