What Birds Eat Thistle Seed: A Comprehensive Guide for 2024

Table of Contents

If you’re a bird enthusiast or just someone who enjoys feeding birds in your backyard, you’ve probably heard about thistle seeds. Also known as Niger seeds, What Birds Eat Thistle Seed, thistle seeds are a favorite among many bird species due to their high nutritional value. In this article, we’ll delve into what thistle seeds are, which birds enjoy them, their nutritional benefits, tips for feeding birds, and more.

What Birds Eat Thistle Seed: What are Thistle Seeds?

What Birds Eat Thistle Seed

Thistle seeds, also known as What Birds Eat Thistle Seed, are small, black seeds derived from the African yellow daisy flower, Niger (Guizot Abyssinia). Despite being referred to as “thistle” seeds, they are not related to the invasive thistle weed commonly seen in gardens. These tiny oil-rich seeds are a fantastic source of energy and nutrients, making them a sought-after food choice for various bird species.

Birds that Love Thistle Seeds

What Birds Eat Thistle Seed

Numerous bird species, including What Birds Eat Thistle Seed, are attracted to thistle seeds, and they will flock to your backyard feeders once word gets out that you have them available. Some of the most common bird species that adore thistle seeds include:

  • American Goldfinch: These bright yellow birds are avid consumers of thistle seeds and will frequently visit feeders filled with them.
  • House Finch: House Finches are known for their reddish plumage and their fondness for thistle seeds.
  • Pine Siskin: Pine Siskins are small, lively birds that form flocks and can consume impressive amounts of thistle seeds.
  • Common Redpoll: These delightful winter visitors are often seen foraging on thistle seeds during their migration.
  • Dark-eyed Junco: Juncos are ground-feeding birds that will occasionally feast on scattered thistle seeds.
  • Chickadees: Chickadees are known for their playful nature, and they will also enjoy thistle seeds when offered.
  • Mourning Doves: Although primarily seed-eaters, mourning doves will readily eat thistle seeds if provided.

Nutritional Benefits of Thistle Seeds

What Birds Eat Thistle Seed

Thistle seeds, also known as What Birds Eat Thistle Seed, pack a nutritional punch, providing essential nutrients and energy to birds, especially during harsh weather conditions and migration. These seeds are rich in:

  • Protein: Crucial for muscle development and repair.
  • Fat: A high-energy food source that sustains birds during colder months.
  • Fiber: Aids in digestion and supports gut health.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Including vitamin E, iron, calcium, and magnesium, promoting overall avian well-being.

Feeding Birds with Thistle Seeds

If you want to attract What Birds Eat Thistle Seed to your yard, here are some valuable tips to follow:

Choose Quality Thistle Seeds

Ensure you purchase fresh, high-quality thistle seeds, also known as What Birds Eat Thistle Seed, from reputable stores or suppliers. Look for seeds that are clean, free from debris, and not old or moldy.

Use Proper Feeders

Invest in feeders specifically designed for thistle seeds, also known as What Birds Eat Thistle Seed. These feeders often have small openings that prevent spillage and minimize waste.

Place Feeders Strategically

Position the thistle seed feeders, also known as What Birds Eat Thistle Seed, in locations that offer some shelter from harsh winds and predators, but also provide clear visibility for the birds.

Regular Cleaning

Keep the thistle seed feeders, also known as What Birds Eat Thistle Seed, clean and dry to prevent harmful mold and bacterial growth, ensuring the birds’ well-being.

Patience is Key

It might take some time for birds to discover new feeders, so be patient and consistent with refilling them.

Offer a Variety of Foods

While thistle seeds are a great attraction, provide a diverse range of bird-friendly foods to cater to different species and their preferences.

Birds That Eat Sunflower Seed

Many backyard birds enjoy eating sunflower seeds, which are packed with fat and protein to help keep birds energized. Some common birds that relish sunflower seeds include cardinals, woodpeckers, nuthatches, grosbeaks, jays, doves, chickadees, titmice, finches, and Northern Flickers. Offering a steady supply of sunflower seeds in feeders may attract a diversity of birds to your yard. Hang feeders from tree branches or mount on a deck or post and replenish the seeds regularly as needed. Combine sunflower seeds with other feeds like suet and nuts to satisfy different birds’ preferences. The high oil content of black oil sunflower seeds make them particularly sought-after by many birds compared to striped sunflower seeds.

Birds That Eat Safflower Seed

With its thin shell, safflower seed is easy for smaller birds to crack open and enjoy. Cardinals, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, mourning doves and Eastern bluebirds are common visitors to feeders filled with safflower seed. Gray squirrels generally dislike safflower, making it a good alternative feed when squirrels are problematic unwanted guests. Safflower is often offered alone rather than mixed with other seeds, or you can try blending it with sunflower seeds. Hang mesh feeders or tubes and keep safflower seed dry to prevent spoilage. Its high fat content provides birds important energy reserves.

Safflower seeds’ harder shells pose more of challenge for House Sparrows and European Starlings to eat compared to other backyard birds equipped to access the nutritious seeds. So by offering safflower, you can help attract more desirable backyard birds while deterring these aggressive species.

Birds That Eat Thistle Seed

Thistle seed, also known as nyjer seed, is loved by American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls and Purple Finches. This tiny, black oilseed originating from the African yellow daisy provides birds a hefty dose of nutrition to fuel their high metabolisms and energetic habits. The small size allows smaller-beaked finches to easily crack open the thin shells. Chickadees, Northern Cardinals and doves also occasionally sample nyjer seeds.

Goldfinches cling to mesh feeders in particular to nibble away at thistle seed. Be sure to position finch feeders in locations safe from predatory cats interested in the small songbirds and where drainage allows. Apart from traditional feeders, you can also sprinkle nyjer seeds on platform trays. Offer thistle seed on its own instead of mixed with other bird feeds which will cause much of it to get wasted uneaten at ground-level.

Platform/Tray Bird Feeder

Platform bird feeders, also referred to as tray feeders, provide an open space for offering various seeds and grains in one spot. Ground feeding birds like doves and sparrows appreciate easy access to platform feeders. Scatter mixed bird seed, millet, cracked corn, safflower seed, sunflower chips and other foods to attract a diversity of birds. Platform feeders allow easy refilling access too compared to tubes or houses. Look for models with drainage holes and wide, sturdy bases to prevent spills. Hang platform feeders or mounted on poles out of the reach of predators. Keep the feeding area clean to avoid moldy, wet debris.

Best Platform Feeders

Quality platform bird feeders feature durable plastic or metal mesh construction that allows water drainage to keep seeds fresh and reduces waste. Drainage holes also prevent water from pooling up andMake cleaning easier by looking for feeders with removable mesh floors for quick access to clear old seeds and hulls. Some excellent tray style platform feeders include:

  • Perky-Pet 312 Panorama Bird Feeder – Features a large plastic tray and drainage holes with a weighted cover to keep seeds protected. Easy to disassemble and clean.
  • Songbird Essentials SE503 Easy-Clean Tray Bird Feeder – Made of steel mesh with corrosion resistant coating, removable tray and drainage holes. Generous sized.
  • Squirrel Buster Standard Squirrel-proof Bird Feeder w/tray – Squirrel deterrent mechanism keeps squirrels out while songbirds feed on the metal mesh tray. Easy to disassemble for cleaning.
  • Aspects 375 Panorama Window Bird Feeder – Offers a clear plastic tray for easily observing feeding birds up close through windows. Good drainage and easy to clean.

Tube Bird Feeder

Tube bird feeders encapsulate birdseed in clear plastic or glass tubes, allowing easy viewing of seed levels. Cardinals, chickadees, finches, woodpeckers, nuthatches and other backyard birds comfortably perch on the tubes’ built-in feeding ports. Select tube feeders with small perch holes to exclude larger birds. Drainage holes at the base prevent water from accumulating inside. Brush or air blow debris out of empty tubes between refills. Offering different feed types in separate tubes allows you to cater to birds with specialized diets. Hang tubes from tree branches, shepherd hooks or mount on feeder poles. Squirrel-proof tube models have weight sensitive perches to close access to seed when squirrels try to climb on.

Hopper Bird Feeder

Resembling little houses with angled transparent sloping sides, hopper bird feeders keep dry birdseed conveniently accessible to birds through slots at the base of the openings. Seed stays fresh longer thanks to the airtight seal that keeps out rain and snow. Birds like cardinals, sparrows, doves, titmice, jays, wrens, grosbeaks happily feed from the ledges while songbirds and wrens cling to the slots. Mounting on feeder hooks or poles allows easy refilling via access hatches. Models with brushed metal roofs prevent squirrels from gaining entry to the seed supply. Use hoppers to offer mixes, sunflower seeds, safflower or other types to attract an assortment of wild birds.

We Asked Readers: What Bird Food Is Most Popular in Your Yard?

In a recent Birds & Blooms magazine survey, we asked backyard birding enthusiasts what type of bird food attracts the most avian traffic to feeders in their yards. Here’s what the nearly 5,000 respondents voted as the top foods.

  1. Black oil sunflower seeds – The overall favorite bird food with 84% of votes, these small, high-fat seeds with thin shells attract the greatest number of bird species including titmice, goldfinches, cardinals, jays, juncos, doves and grosbeaks.
  2. Nyjer thistle – 65% said this tiny, black oilseed is very popular, drawing American Goldfinches, Purple Finches and Pine Siskins in particular to specialized mesh feeders.
  3. Suet – 62% have luck offering suet cakes, blocks and nuggets to woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and wrens.
  4. Peanuts – These rank as the 4th most popular feed chosen by 44% of survey takers to draw Blue Jays, woodpeckers, titmice, mockingbirds and others.
  5. Dried mealworms – Coming in at #5 with 38% of votes, mealworms are relished by robins, bluebirds, wrens, chickadees, woodpeckers and other insect-loving species.

The survey indicates black oil sunflower ranks as the overall preferred bird food for feeding the greatest diversity of wild birds that frequent backyard feeders. Offering nyjer thistle, suet, peanuts and dried mealworms will help round out your feeder fare to attract more species.


With thistle or nyjer being a favorite among finch species in particular, having feeders filled with these tiny black seeds will help draw more of these beautiful songbirds to your yard.

The most popular nyjer eating birds are:

  • American Goldfinches – The bright yellow males and olive-colored females can flock to nyjer feeders in large numbers. Goldfinches cling to the mesh feeder slots with their toes to extract the small seeds.
  • Pine Siskins – Small streaky brown cousins of goldfinches that travel in flocks also relish nyjer, swinging on the feeders. They have a bit of yellow on their wings and pointy bills.
  • Purple Finches – The males sport deep red-purple heads and breast with some streaking below. The females are light brown with slight streaking. Both happily feed on nyjer.
  • Common Redpolls – In winter, these visitors from boreal forests and Canada’s arctic sport fluffy plumage and a distinctive crimson cap. They’ll flock to thistle feeders.

In some regions, Northern Cardinals, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and Mourning Doves will sample nyjer on occasion as well though it’s not their top choice. Still the high fat and protein content provides supplemental nutrition.

Offer Nyjer Seed to Attract More Finches

To draw more colorful, energetic finches to your yard, keep feeders freshly stocked with nyjer seeds they know and love. Here’s some tips for success:

  • Select quality mesh feeders specifically designed for nyjer seed rather than standard mixed bird seed feeders or houses. Thistle socks work too. The small mesh openings allow tiny nyjer seeds out without wasting by also dispensing other larger grains.
  • For efficiency, only fill nyjer feeders with plain nyjer seed instead of mixes that will get ignored and primarily feed messy debris to the ground.
  • Position finch feeders where you can enjoy the show! Near windows, seating areas or in view of the kitchen gives great sightlines.
  • Use feeders with drainage holes and hang under eaves or shelters to keep nyjer seed fresh and dry, which finicky wild birds require.
  • Refill feeders often and ensure freshness. In summer when finches molts, they especially appreciate easy access to nutritious nyjer seeds to regrow feathers.

With the right quality feed and optimal presentation, nyjer-loving colorful finches will seek out your yard as a go-to feeding station for their specialized diet.

What is the Difference Between Nyjer Seed and Thistle Seed?

While the names sound nearly identical and interchangeable, nyjer and thistle birdseeds do differ. Here’s how:

  • Source plant – Nyjer seed comes from the African yellow daisy plant while thistle seeds originate from tropical thistle flowering plants.
  • Origins – Most commercial nyjer seeds today hail from Ethiopia and India while thistle seeds grow across Central and South America.
  • Appearance – Thistle has white seed husks enclosing brown, grey or black inner seeds. Nyjer is simply tiny all-black seeds about half a centimeter long. No outer husk encases them.
  • Nutrition – Ounce for ounce, nyjer and thistle seeds have a nearly equivalent, very high 30% to 35% fat content and 20% protein level, making both ultra nutritious bird feeds.
  • Popular birds – In North America, American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins and Purple Finches overwhelmingly prefer nyjer seed while in Central and South America, finches feast more on thistle seeds.
  • Availability – Nyjer and thistle seeds are somewhat interchangeably called either name at most stores though nyjer remains far more pervasive and available commercially in the U.S.

So while nyjer and thistle seeds share similarities, nyjer clearly dominates the North American bird feeding market in popularity thanks to goldfinches’ and other finches’ affinity for its tiny size and accessibility in fine mesh feeders. Offer either though and you’re sure to have some happy finches!

Which Birds Eat Nyjer Seed?

With approximately 30% fat and 20% protein, nyjer seeds offer birds an ultra energy-boosting meal. Types of birds that are specially adapted to crack open and feast on the tiny seeds include:


Finches possess narrow, pointed beaks well-suited for nibbling away the thin hulls of nyjer seed to extract the tiny kernel inside. American Goldfinches, Lesser Goldfinches, Lawrence’s Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches and Common Redpolls top the list of nyjer-loving finches.

During summer molting when goldfinches shed old tattered feathers and regrow fresh plumage, they especially appreciate easily accessible nyjer seeds to meet the energy demands of feather production.

Chickadees & Titmice

Both Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmice will sample nyjer seeds on occasion despite their tiny size. Their agility lets them hang from mesh feeder openings to pick away at nyjer. However it only provides a supplemental treat versus staple diet for these songbirds.

Northern Cardinals

As voracious feeder visitors enjoying a wide diet of seeds and berries, Northern Cardinals will also try nyjer seeds. Watch for the bright red males cracking open nyjer alongside goldfinches.


Common backyard visitors like mourning doves may pluck at nyjer seeds fallen to the ground below hanging mesh feeders. More often they’ll opt for readily available mixed birdseed blends though when given the choice.

So while nyjer primarily targets finches most efficiently, other agile opportunistic birds find ways to occasionally enjoy this high-fat treat as well if available.

Feeders to Serve Nyjer Seed

To successfully attract finches with nyjer seeds takes having the right feeder specifically tailored to dispensing the tiny seeds. Consider the following features:

Mesh construction –Wire mesh feeder tubes or cages allow nyjer seeds to pass through easily while containing them unlike openings sized for sunflower seeds. Plastic mesh works too though metal withstands squirrel damage better.

Small seed slots – Feeder openings should be narrow enough so only 1-2 nyjer seeds exit at a time, reducing waste. Finches don’t mind clinging vertically or acrobatically to retrieve the seeds.

Specialized nyjer feeder shape –Long tubes give room for multiple finches to feed. Or round enclosures surround all sides with access holes finches cling to. Some feed vertically while others hang upside down.

Weather protection – Look for nyjer feeders with roofs to protect from rain and drainage holes at the base to keep seeds dry.

Easy to fill and clean – Choose feeders with detachable bases or large openings for quickly topping off nyjer levels when finches empty them. Similarly being able to easily disassemble all parts speeds cleaning unwanted debris.

Following these tips helps ensure you choose high-quality, specialized nyjer seed feeders purpose-built to serve tiny seeds finches love while minimizing waste.

Serve Only Fresh Nyjer Seed

To reap benefits of offering nyjer, which is to draw more goldfinches, Pine Siskins and other finches to your yard, it’s essential to maintain freshness standards. Here’s how:

Buy nyjer seed in small batches – Unlike other birdseed, nyjer’s high oil content causes it go rancid quicker. Buy just enough to refill feeders for a couple week period.

**Avoid bleached “inexpensive” nyjer **– Low grade nyjer gets bleached white then sold cheaply. But the process destroys nutrition finches need. Stick to unadulterated black nyjer.

Keep feeders in shade – Sunlight accelerates degredation of nyjer oil. Position finch feeders in protected spots under eaves or trees to preserve freshness longer.

Check seed condition regularly – Sniff test nyjer smelling feeders weekly for any pungent odor indicating spoilage. Also inspect seeds for white filmy appearance. Replace deteriorated batches immediately.

Clean feeders thoroughly – Frequently scrub feeders with soap and water, removing old nyjer dust and residue before refreshing with new seeds. This prevents contamination.

Follow these finicky guidelines regarding nyjer seed and finches will reward your diligence by flocking to your clean feeders filled with nutritious, fresh nyjer seed.

Backyard Bird Feeding Tips: Seed, Feeders & Attracting Species

Offering the right backyard birdseed from quality feeders tailored to birds’ preferences helps attract various species to your yard. Tube feeders with perches dispense sunflower seeds, nyjer thistle, safflower, and seed mixes through plastic or glass tubes for easy viewing. Platform feeders provide open tray space for scattering mixed seeds to ground birds. Finches flock to cylindrical or rectangular mesh feeders with small openings sized for tiny nyjer thistle seeds they love.

Cardinals enjoy opened-sided hopper feeders that keep seed dry. Look for drainage, weather protection, easy cleaning and filling when choosing feeders. Black oil sunflower seeds rank highly among many birds for their high fat content versus striped seeds. Similarly, nyjer thistle seeds provide concentrated protein and fat perfect for finches. As a bonus, squirrels tend to avoid nyjer and safflower. For deterring squirrels, choose feeders with weight-sensitive perches. Offer suet for woodpeckers and mealworms to attract robins and bluebirds too for maximum bird diversity. Catering feeding options to birds’ nutritional requirements attracts the most species.

Nyjer Seed: A Popular High-Fat Bird Food for Finches

Nyjer seed, also called thistle seed, originates from the African yellow daisy as a prime birdseed offering nutritious oil and protein levels over 30% for popular backyard birds. This costly seed suits smaller pointed bills of clinging feeder birds like American and Lesser goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, and Common Redpolls that nibble the tiny black seeds. Mesh feeders specially sized for nyjer accessibility allow birds to feed right-side up or upside down. Ground feeders also pick fallen seeds. Woodpeckers may eat nyjer but prefer suet.

Other birds like doves, thrushes, chickadees, jays, and Northern Cardinals occasionally sample the readily available seeds too despite small size. Nyjer’s thin shell makes the tiny kernel inside easy to extract for these acrobatic feeders. The high fat content offers crucial energy reserves to maintain tiny birds’ high metabolism, especially in winter. This oil does cause nyjer to spoil quicker than other birdseeds if not stored properly though. Ensure freshness and use specialty feeders with drainage that allow nyjer-loving finches, siskins, redpolls and goldfinches to comfortably access a favorite nutritious food source.

Nutritious Nyjer: A Key Finch-Attracting Bird Feed

Nyjer seed has become a wildly popular backyard bird feed for attracting American goldfinches, purple finches, Pine Siskins, redpolls and other songbirds thanks to its exotic source. This thistle seed hails from the African yellow daisy, a hardy flowering plant native to Ethiopia and regions of South Africa, as an internationally exported commodity. While formerly called Niger seed, nyjer better reflects origins without appropriation. What makes these tiny grayish-black seeds a finch favorite is extremely high fat and protein nutrition perfect for fueling busy birds.

Specialized cylindrical or mesh tube feeders alongside open feeding stations dispense nyjer while allowing clinging birds to access the tiny seeds. Optimizing feeder placement, keeping nyjer fresh and properly storing surplus boosts wild bird feeding success. Offer nyjer as finches migrate and during cold months when calories matter most. Birding enthusiasts, garden bird watchers and backyard conservationists should have nyjer seed readily on hand to nourish goldfinches, Pine Siskins, redpolls, purple finches and other songbirds attracted to this high-energy food source. Welcome them as colorful visitors or residents!

CONCLUSION: what birds eat thistle seed in the winter

Different bird species prefer varieties of bird seed based on nutritional profiles suiting their dietary needs as well as ability to physically access seeds within protective husks or shells. Black oil sunflower ranks as the overall favorite drawing the greatest diversity. Small-beaked goldfinches, Pine Siskins and other finches rely almost exclusively on tiny nyjer seeds to fuel high energy levels and keep warm.

Stocking free-hanging mesh feeders specifically designed for serving nyjer seeds will satisfy these specialized feeders. Monitor seed freshness closely and clean feeders routinely to attract the most birds. Offer suet, peanuts and mealworms too to meet needs of insect-eaters and seed-crunching species that frequent backyards. Tailor feeders and food to target the feathered friends you most wish to host.


Do birds eat thistle seed?

Yes, many birds eat thistle seed, particularly finches. Popular thistle-eating birds are American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, and more. Chickadees also occasionally eat thistle seeds.

How do I attract birds to my thistle feeder?

Use high-quality thistle seed and ensure it stays fresh and dry. Position the mesh thistle feeder in an open area near trees or shrubs so birds have sheltered spaces to perch and approach comfortably.

What kind of birds like Niger seeds?

Niger seeds, also called nyjer seeds or thistle seeds, are a favorite of finches including Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches, Purple Finches and Common Redpolls. Chickadees and Northern Cardinals occasionally eat nyjer seeds too.

What bird seed attracts the most birds?

Black oil sunflower seeds attract the greatest variety of birds including cardinals, woodpeckers, jays, sparrows, juncos, doves, and more.

What is the most attractive bird seed?

Black oil sunflower seeds are considered the most popular and attractive bird seed, drawing the most species to feeders. Nyjer seeds also heavily attract finches like American Goldfinches.

What is thistle seed?

Thistle seed, also called nyjer or niger seed, comes from the African yellow daisy plant. The tiny black seeds are high in fat and protein perfect for fueling finches.

What kills thistle seeds?

Vinegar, salt water, boiling water, and solarization (using sunlight heat exposure) can all effectively kill thistle weed seeds in soil to curb growth and spreading.

Why is thistle seed so expensive?

Thistle bird seed is more costly than other seeds because of special importing since the African yellow daisy plant is not widely grown outside regions like Ethiopia. Limited production and shipping exotic nyjer seed increases expense.

Can you eat thistle seeds?

While not typically consumed by people, thistle seeds are edible. They offer a nutty flavor and plenty of good fats and protein. However their tiny size makes eating any meaningful quantity tedious.

What birds eat thistle seed?

Finches like American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls feast on tiny thistle seeds from specialized feeders. Chickadees also occasionally eat thistle seeds.

What birds eat thistle seed in the winter?

In winter when food sources grow scarce, American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins and Purple Finches rely on thistle feeders the most heavily to fuel energy needs in frigid temperatures for survival.

What kind of birds eat thistle seed?

Thistle-loving birds tend to be from the finch family including American and Lesser Goldfinches, Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls and more. Nuthatches and chickadees also sample thistle/nyjer seeds.

What do finches birds eat the whole thistle seed?

Yes, the variety of finches that enjoy thistle seed will consume the entire tiny black seed once cracking open the thin outer shell, rather than peck out only the inner kernel. Consuming both maximizes nutrition.

What birds in west Tennessee eat thistle seed?

Good finch species to attract with thistle seed feeders in west Tennessee include American Goldfinches, Purple Finches during migration, and Pine Siskins in winter. Occasionally Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Evening Grosbeaks and Cedar Waxwings will also eat thistle seeds when available.

What Michigan birds eat thistle seed?

Common Michigan birds drawn to thistle feeders filled with nyjer seed include American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, both red and white-winged crossbills, Common Redpolls, Purple Finches and American Tree Sparrows. Chickadees may visit nyjer feeders at times too.

About the Author: Hudaibia

My name is Hudaibia with the profound passion for our feathered friends. Birds have captivated my heart and mind since childhood. Now I share my avian devotion through my website, mybirdfeed.com.