gardening for bees

Sunflowers transition from bees to birds


It is easy to forget that humans aren’t the only ones dependent on bees. A whole world of creatures out there needs bees to provide seeds, berries, and plants. After the bees were done with my sunflowers this year, I decided to let them stand for the birds. It didn’t take long before birds of all sorts began pecking at the delicious morsels.

These chickadees were out there for hours, cavorting among the flowers, and picking off the seeds one by one. As a rule, I don’t even try to photograph birds, but these were jostling above my head while I was trying to photograph some flower spiders, so I just leaned back and fired away…pretty cool. I love that I got one with a seed in its beak.

Sunflowers turned out to be one of the try-its that worked, although not exactly as I expected. As I mentioned earlier, the Lemon Queens were too tall for me to photograph easily. I expected honey bees to work them, though few did. Mostly they were visited by bumble bees and leafcutting bees and various wasps. Still, now that the birds are so happy, I’m sure I will plant sunflowers again.

Thanks to all of you who have sent sunflower photos. I think they are all posted, but if I missed yours, please remind me.

Honey Bee Suite


This chickadee just selected a seed from one of the Lemon Queen sunflowers. © Rusty Burlew.


In an instant, she turned and flew off with the seed. © Rusty Burlew.


These two leafcutting bees worked the sunflowers just a few weeks earlier. © Rusty Burlew.


The transition from bees to birds didn’t take long. © Rusty Burlew.



  • I love watching the birds on my sunflowers – and the squirrels when they are hanging upside down on my Mammoth sunflowers. I took a chance and planted a second crop of Lemon Queen and Mammoth sunflowers – The first crop is gone, the second is in bloom now. Hoping to help out all the critters a little bit longer into the fall season.

  • Rusty,

    I basically had the same results with my Lemon Queen Sunflowers and my Buckwheat. I planted, small plantings this year for economic purposes, and planted late so they would bloom the end of August and very first of September I hoped to jump start the fall nectar flow in West Georgia which usually starts around the 10th of September. If it worked I planned on going to larger food plots next year, however the Goldenrod had a different plan and started blooming on the 14th of August and the bees started working it on the 20th, totally ignoring the Sunflowers and Buckwheat when they came out. There was a little pause in the Goldenrod blooming season around the 15th of September and some late planted/blooming Buckwheat drew the bees attention…..Around the 20th of September a second blooming of Goldenrod corresponding with some wild sunflowers occurred and the bees once again covered the Goldenrod. After a cold and rainy spring that yielded very little harvestable honey the fall nectar flow has been very good for the bees providing natural resources. Here it is the 2nd of October and we still have some bright yellow Goldenrod blooming. But it is October and I plan to feed any hives that are still in need until the first of November and then it is basically up to the bees to make it through the winter. (yes I will observe on warm days and feed and necessary hives)
    I 3 successful splits and 3 swarms captured I currently have 13 hives and my planting plans for next year are still a question. For three summers I have seen the bees ignore anything I plant until the middle of June when the Tulip Poplars and the Privet have quite blooming and then they concentrate on white clovers ignoring the Buckwheat that I had planted and was blooming at the same time. Next week I hope to overseed about 15 acres with Durana clover, it will enhance my hay fields and help the bees from mid-June to mid-July. At this point I have a question, should we let the bees have a dearth? Isn’t that the natural thing? I am honestly asking those questions, I have not read anything on the subject and I can argue my opinion about both……example, Pro- by letting them have a dearth I can work on interrupting the Varroa cycle. Con- it is in the dearth that major robbing has occurred each year weakening some hives to the point they will need help. But, but, the list goes on and on……and I am a very humbled 3rd year beekeeper….gone are the days when I knew it all. Even though we live on opposite sides of the continent and I am setting on the 33 parallel your posts are always spot on with just a little adjustment for climate. It is a strange and wonderful world we live on……
    Although I am a farmer and my ecological footprint is pretty heavy when compared to individuals footprints, my Long Path Back to Nature will be slow but one that I must walk. I try to evaluate my decisions by reading your posts and researching your older stories. And by particular quote by ― Aldo Leopold “Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to perserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” ― Aldo Leopold

  • Beautiful images of the birds eating the seeds. You’ve given me the idea to plant sun flowers next year, purely to help the birds along!

  • I love birds almost as much as I love bees. These are very pretty photos, Rusty. And the last one is just awesome!

  • It occurred to me this morning as I was painfully removing my seeds from my sunflowers that I could barter my full sunflower heads as premium chicken feed (without shelling) in exchange for organic eggs

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