Thistle Seed for Birds: The Ultimate Guide to Feeding Your Feathered Friends



Thistle Seed for Birds

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If you’re a birder, you know that birds love thistle seed. This tiny, oil-rich seed is a popular food source for many backyard birds, including finches, sparrows, doves, and more. These minuscule powerhouses of nutrition possess a charm that captivates birds far and wide.

Join us on a fascinating journey as we uncover the secret behind the irresistible allure of thistle seeds, exploring why these petite treats have become a favorite among avian enthusiasts.

Key Takeaways

  • Thistle seed, also known as Nyjer or Niger seed, is highly prized by many small songbirds like finches due to its high oil content and nutritious value.
  • Unlike many other bird seeds, thistle seed has a hard shell which prevents it from sprouting if it falls on the ground, making it a tidy feeding option.
  • Its specialized dispensing requirement, typically through small-holed feeders, deters larger birds and squirrels, ensuring that your preferred small songbirds get their fill.

Understanding Thistle Seed

Thistle seed, also known as Niger or Nyjer seed, is a popular birdseed that is loved by many backyard bird species, particularly seed-eating birds and winter finches. If you are looking to attract birds to your backyard, then thistle seed is a great option as it is a high oil content seed whjch is great to add into your bird food mix.

Thistle seed is derived from the African yellow daisy plant, Guizotia abyssinica (not the thistle plant). The seeds are tiny and black and are rich in oil, making them an excellent source of energy for birds. In fact, thistle seed has one of the highest oil contents of any birdseed, making it a nutritious choice for your feathered friends.

One of the great things about thistle seed is that it is not attractive to squirrels and other rodents, so you can be sure that the birds will get to enjoy it without any competition. However, it is important to note that thistle seed can be expensive, so it is best to use it in a feeder that is designed specifically for thistle seed to minimize waste.

Thistle Seed and Birds

Thistle seed is a favorite of many birds, but some species are particularly fond of it. American goldfinches, pine siskins, house finches, and common redpolls are just a few of the birds that love thistle seed. Indigo buntings, lesser goldfinches, song sparrows, and quails are also known to enjoy it.

Birds that cling to feeders, such as chickadees and clinging birds, will also eat thistle seed. Ground-feeding birds like towhees and cardinals may also consume it if it’s scattered on the ground. Even non-seed-eating birds like starlings and orioles have been known to eat thistle seed.

How Birds Consume Thistle Seed

Thistle seed is a tiny seed, so birds have to work a bit harder to get to the nutritious oil inside. They use their sharp beaks to crack open the seed and then use their tongues to extract the oil. Some birds, like the American goldfinch, are able to swallow the entire seed and digest it whole.

If you want to attract thistle-loving birds to your backyard, consider offering thistle seed in a specialized feeder. These feeders have small ports that only allow birds to access the seed, preventing larger birds from stealing it. You can also scatter thistle seed on the ground for ground-feeding birds or mix it with other seeds in a hopper feeder.

A Goldfinch’s Delight: Morning Song Goldfinch Thistle Seed

Tailor your bird-feeding adventure to the whimsical world of goldfinches with Morning Song Goldfinch Thistle Seed.

The Morning Song Goldfinch Thistle Seed targets a specific feathered fan base—goldfinches. This specialized feed is perfect for those who cherish these vibrant yellow beauties and wish to turn their yard into a goldfinch paradise.


  • Attracts goldfinches: Tailored specifically for charming these birds.
  • High-quality: These thistle seeds are top-grade and well-liked by finches.
  • Easy to feed: Works perfectly with finch tube feeders.
  • Minimal waste: Goldfinches love these seeds, so there’s less waste.


  • Specialized: Other bird species might not be as attracted to thistle seeds.
  • Requires a specific feeder: Not all feeders are suitable for these small seeds.

Types of Thistle Seed Feeders

There are different types of thistle seed feeders available on the market. These seeds are tiny and when selecting bird feeders for thistle, look specifically for a thistle feeder or finch feeders.

Tube Feeders

Tube feeders are a popular choice of bird feeder for thistle seed. They are typically made of plastic or metal and have small feeding ports that allow the wild bird to access the bird seed. Tube feeders are great for attracting finches, siskins, and other small birds. Look for a finch feeder when browsing.

When choosing a tube feeder, look for one that has a metal top and bottom to prevent squirrels from chewing through it. You may also want to consider a feeder with a removable bottom for easy cleaning when feeding wild birds.

Metal Bird Feeder Thistle Bird Feeder

Your Ideal Solution for Feeding Finches

Add a touch of elegance to your garden while bringing nature closer with this Metal Bird Feeder, specifically designed for thistle seed. This Brushed Copper, 14-inch tube feeder, holds up to 1.5 lb of Nyger Seed or Finch Mix, providing a convenient and plentiful supply for your feathery visitors. With six perching spots, your garden will be the talk of the avian community. Easy to refill, clean, and hang, this feeder blends functionality with aesthetic appeal, making it a great addition to your outdoor space.

  • Accommodates Multiple Birds: With six standing ports, this feeder allows more bird species to perch and feed simultaneously, including goldfinches, finches, chickadees, redpolls, and siskins.
  • High Quality and Durable: Constructed from rust-resistant metal with a brushed copper finish, this feeder is designed to withstand all weather conditions, offering year-round feeding.
  • Easy to Use: The feeder comes with a convenient flip-top lid for effortless refilling. The transparent seed compartment enables easy monitoring of seed levels to ensure your feathered friends never run out of food.
  • Enhances Garden Aesthetics: The feeder’s antique copper design not only invites a variety of birds but also adds a charming, rustic appeal to your garden.

Ground Feeders

Ground feeders are another option for offering thistle seed to birds. These feeders are typically a tray or platform that sits on the ground. Ground feeders are great for attracting larger birds like doves and quail.

When using a ground feeder, make sure to place it in an area that is protected from predators like cats. You may also want to consider using a squirrel baffle to prevent squirrels from stealing the wild bird feed.

Alternatives to Thistle Seed

While thistle seed is a popular choice for feeding birds, there are many other options available that can attract a wide range of birds to your feeder. Here are some alternatives to thistle seed that you can try:

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are a favorite of many seed-eating birds, including finches, jays, and chickadees. Black oil sunflower seeds are especially popular because they have a high oil content, which provides birds with plenty of energy. You can offer sunflower seeds in a variety of feeders, including tube feeders, hopper feeders, and platform feeders.

Seed Mixes

Seed mixes are a great way to attract a variety of birds to your feeder. Look for mixes that contain a variety of seeds, such as sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn. Finch mixes are also a good option if you want to attract finches to your feeder.


Safflower is a white seed that is popular with cardinals, finches, and other birds. It has a thick shell that can be difficult for some birds to crack open, so it’s best to offer it in a hopper or platform feeder.


Peanuts are a high-energy food that is popular with woodpeckers, jays, and other birds. You can offer peanuts in a variety of feeders, including suet feeders, platform feeders, and peanut feeders.


Oats are a nutritious food that is popular with doves, juncos, and other ground-feeding birds. You can offer oats in a platform feeder or scatter them on the ground.

Shelled Sunflower

Shelled sunflower seeds are a convenient option if you don’t want to deal with the mess of shells. They are popular with a variety of birds, including finches, jays, and chickadees.

Other Options

Other options to consider include milo, corn, and birdseed mixes. Milo is a small, round seed that is popular with doves and other ground-feeding birds. Corn is a popular food for squirrels, but it can also attract jays and other birds. Birdseed mixes are a great way to attract a variety of birds to your feeder, but be sure to choose mixes that are appropriate for the birds in your area.

Thistle Seed in Different Seasons

As a backyard birder, you know that different bird species have different preferences when it comes to birdseed. One type of seed that is particularly popular with many bird species is thistle seed, also known as Nyjer seed. But when should you put out thistle seed for your feathered friends? Here’s what you need to know about thistle seed in different seasons.


Winter is a great time to offer thistle seed to your backyard birds. Many birds that eat thistle seed, such as finches and siskins, are winter visitors to North America. These birds need high-energy foods to survive the cold winter months, and thistle seed fits the bill.


In the spring, many bird species switch from a seed-based diet to an insect-based diet. However, some birds that eat thistle seed, such as goldfinches, continue to enjoy this food source throughout the spring and summer. If you want to attract goldfinches to your backyard during the warmer months, be sure to keep your thistle seed feeder stocked.


While thistle seed is not as popular with wild birds during the summer as it is during the winter, there are still some species that will appreciate this food source. For example, house finches and purple finches will eat thistle seed year-round.


Fall is a great time to start putting out thistle seed for your backyard birds. Many bird species that eat thistle seed, such as goldfinches and pine siskins, start to migrate south in the fall. By putting out thistle seed, you can help these birds fuel up for their long journey.

FAQs on Nyjer Thistle Seeds

Which Birds Eat Nyjer Seed?

Nyjer seed, also known as thistle seed, is a favorite of many small and colorful birds. It is especially well-loved by:

  • American Goldfinches
  • Lesser Goldfinches
  • House Finches
  • Purple Finches
  • Pine Siskins
  • Redpolls

Due to the tiny size of the seeds, they are typically served in tube feeders with small holes that only allow small-beaked birds to feed, helping to attract these species specifically. Note that Nyjer seeds is a trademark fo the Wild Bird Feeding Institute, these tiny seeds are more commonly referred to as Niger seed to thistle seed.

What does thistle seed do?

Thistle seed, also known as nyjer seed, is a highly nutritious food for birds, providing them with essential fats and proteins. It helps sustain the energy levels of birds and contributes to their overall health.

Are thistle and nyjer seed the same?

Yes, thistle and nyjer seed are essentially the same. Nyjer is often referred to as “thistle seed” due to a common misconception. While nyjer is not technically a thistle, the name has stuck because finches and other small birds that enjoy thistle also love nyjer.

What does thistle seed attract?

Thistle seed primarily attracts finches, including American Goldfinches, House Finches, and Purple Finches. It also attracts other small songbirds like Pine Siskins and Redpolls.

Do cardinals like thistle seed?

Generally, cardinals do not eat thistle seed. Their beaks are designed for cracking open larger seeds, not for the tiny nyjer seeds. Cardinals typically prefer larger seeds like sunflower or safflower.

Is nyjer seed good for finches?

Yes, nyjer seed is excellent for finches. It’s high in fat and protein, providing the nutrients that finches need. Plus, its small size is perfect for the small beaks of finches.

Can squirrels eat nyjer seed?

Squirrels can eat nyjer seed, but they usually don’t. The seeds are tiny and don’t provide as much nutritional benefit for squirrels as larger seeds or nuts. Moreover, nyjer seeds are often served in tube feeders with small holes that squirrels find difficult to access.

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