What Birds Eat Safflower Seeds? – Wild Birds with Safflower Seed

Birds Eat Safflower Seeds - Safflower Seeds for Wild Birds

Safflower seeds are becoming a popular choice for bird enthusiasts looking to attract a variety of feathered friends to their backyard feeders. These small, white seeds with a slightly bitter taste offer a nutritious snack that many birds find irresistible.

Unlike sunflower seeds, which are a favorite among most seed-eating birds, safflower seeds have a unique appeal. Their hard outer shell requires some effort for birds to crack open, making them less appealing to larger “bully birds” like grackles and starlings. Additionally, squirrels tend to avoid safflower seeds due to their bitter flavor.

Understanding Safflower Seeds

What is Safflower?

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) is a thistle-like plant with bright orange and yellow flowers. The seeds produced by this plant are high in fat and protein, making them an excellent food source for birds.

Nutritional Benefits

Safflower seeds are rich in oils and nutrients, providing birds with the energy they need, especially during colder months. They contain about 38% fat, 16% protein, and 34% carbohydrates.

Birds That Love Safflower Seeds

Common Visitors to Safflower Feeders

Here are some of the most common backyard birds that will happily feast on safflower seeds:

Bird SpeciesNotes
Northern CardinalA safflower favorite, especially in winter
Black-capped ChickadeeAdept at cracking open the shells
Tufted TitmousePrefers hopper or platform feeders
House FinchMay eat some seeds whole
Mourning DoveWill forage for fallen seeds on the ground
White-breasted NuthatchAgile clinger that loves seed feeders
Downy WoodpeckerAppreciates high-fat foods like safflower

Other birds that may eat safflower include purple finches, grosbeaks, buntings, jays, and some sparrow species. You can experiment with seed blends to see what works best to attract your local bird populations.

Why Some Birds Prefer Safflower

Safflower seeds have a bitter taste and a hard shell, which are less appealing to some birds and most squirrels. This selective feeding is beneficial for bird watchers who want to discourage squirrels and larger “bully birds” like grackles and starlings from overtaking their feeders.

Comparing Safflower and Sunflower Seeds

Safflower vs. Sunflower

  • Safflower Seeds: Less appealing to squirrels, produce less waste, and are favored by specific bird types like cardinals.
  • Sunflower Seeds: Attract a wider variety of birds and are easier to eat but are also more likely to attract squirrels and produce more debris.

Table: Seed Preferences

Seed TypeBirds AttractedSquirrel AttractionWaste Produced
SafflowerCardinals, doves, chickadeesLowLow
SunflowerWide variety, including finches and grosbeaksHighHigh

Choosing the Right Feeder

To make the most of feeding safflower, it helps to select an appropriate feeder style. Some good options are:

  • Hopper feeders: With a central seed reservoir that dispenses onto a surrounding tray, these feeders accommodate many sizes of birds and have ample space for safflower.
  • Tube feeders: The long, cylindrical shape with access ports and perches works well for small to medium birds like finches and chickadees. Use a feeder with holes specifically sized for safflower to minimize waste.
  • Platform feeders: Placed close to the ground, platform trays will attract ground-feeding birds like doves and sparrows to eat fallen safflower seeds.

Position your feeders in a spot with good visibility and some nearby cover like bushes or trees so birds feel secure when visiting. Keep the feeders clean and well-stocked for the best results.

Challenges and Solutions

  • Acceptance: Some birds may initially hesitate to eat safflower seeds due to their unfamiliarity. Patience is key as it can take time for birds to try new types of food.
  • Squirrels: While less attractive to squirrels, persistent squirrels may still attempt to access these seeds. Consider squirrel-proof feeders if this becomes an issue.


Safflower seeds are a valuable addition to backyard feeders, especially for those looking to attract specific types of birds while discouraging pests. By understanding which birds eat safflower seeds and how best to feed them, you can enjoy a vibrant and diverse bird population right in your backyard.

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