What Birds Eat Thistle Seed in the Winter? (Tips for Feeding Nyjer Seeds)

As winter approaches, many bird enthusiasts seek to support their local feathered friends by providing a reliable and nutritious food source. Thistle seed, also known as nyjer seed, is a popular choice among bird lovers during the colder months. This tiny black seed is highly attractive to several bird species, particularly seed-eating birds and winter finches that frequent backyard feeders seeking sustenance.

Thistle seed is rich in oil, containing approximately 30-40% of valuable nutrients for birds, making it an excellent option for winter feeding. Many species such as finches, sparrows, doves, goldfinches, chickadees, titmice, juncos, siskins, and redpolls enjoy nyjer seeds and benefit from the energy they provide during the harsh winter months. Providing thistle seeds in your backyard not only helps support local bird populations, but it also enhances the beauty of your yard, as these colorful and lively visitors frequent your feeders.

Key Takeaways

  • Thistle seed is a popular and nutritious choice for supporting birds in the winter months.
  • Several bird species enjoy nyjer seeds, including finches, sparrows, and doves, providing an attractive array of feathered visitors to your yard.
  • Thistle seed’s high oil content makes it an excellent energy source for birds during cold weather.

Birds That Eat Thistle Seed in Winter

During the winter months, thistle seed, also known as Nyjer seed, becomes a sought-after food source for various bird species. Thistle seeds are small, black, and high in oil content, providing much-needed energy and nutrition for birds in colder weather. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of birds that enjoy thistle seed in winter.

Finches are among the most frequent visitors to thistle seed feeders, and this group includes several species such as goldfinches, house finches, purple finches, and pine siskins. These colorful and energetic birds are a delight to watch as they visit feeders for thistle seed during the winter.

Sparrows also enjoy thistle seed, with species such as song sparrows and dark-eyed juncos being drawn to this nutritious offering. These small, social birds can often be found foraging in groups during winter, adding charm and activity to any backyard.

Chickadees are another group of birds that occasionally snack on thistle seeds during winter. With their distinctive black-and-white coloration and cheerful demeanor, chickadees bring a unique charm to any bird feeder.

Siskins and redpolls also have an affinity for thistle seed in winter, particularly pine siskins, hoary redpolls, and common redpolls. These small finch-like birds often flock to thistle seed feeders, providing a lively mix of colors and activity.

The well-known American goldfinch is another bird that frequently visits thistle seed feeders during winter. They’re easily recognized by their bright yellow feathers and distinctive black markings.

Other bird species known to frequent feeders with thistle seed are titmice, juncos, buntings, and doves.

Read Next: What Birds Eat Safflower Seeds?

About Thistle Seed (Nyjer Seed)

Nyjer seeds, also known as thistle seeds, are small, black, and hard-shelled. They are similar in appearance to sunflower seeds but smaller in size. Nyjer seeds are high in oil content, ranging from 30 to 40%, making them an excellent source of energy for birds during the cold winter months.

Niger seed, often confused with nyjer seed, is not a distinct type of thistle seed; in fact, it is another name for nyjer seed. These terms are used interchangeably, referring to the same seed that attracts a variety of birds during the winter months.

To make the most of nyjer seeds, it’s essential to use specialized feeders such as tube feeders with small holes or thistle socks, which are fine-mesh, synthetic bags filled with the seeds. These feeders enable small finches to cling onto the bag and extract seeds through the mesh.

Benefits of Thistle Seed in Winter

  • Thistle seed, also known as provides a valuable source of energy and nutrients for many bird species during the colder months. Its high fat content keeps birds warm and energized, while its nutritious and protein-rich composition helps them maintain body weight and overall health in the winter season.
  • Many seed-eating birds and winter finches in North America are particularly attracted to thistle seed due to its easy-to-crack shell and high nutritional value.
  • In addition to providing energy and nutrition for birds, thistle seed also benefits birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. Attracting birds with thistle seed in the winter helps to create a lively and appealing yard, which can be a source of enjoyment and relaxation for both hobbyists and wildlife alike.
  • By selecting appropriate feeders and birdseed that includes thistle seed, one can create a thriving environment for birds in a North American yard, even during the harshest winters.

Best Thistle Feeder Options

Winter is an important time for bird enthusiasts to provide proper nutrition for various beautiful bird species. Thistle seeds, or nyjer seeds, are a popular choice for attracting many seed-eating birds and winter finches. Let’s explore some of the best thistle feeder options available to help your feathered friends thrive during the cold months.

Seed Feeders

Seed feeders are an excellent option for serving thistle seeds to a variety of birds such as finches, sparrows, juncos, and chickadees. Thistle seed feeders like tube feeders with small thistle-seed-sized holes allow multiple birds to feed simultaneously while keeping the seeds dry and preventing waste. When choosing a seed feeder for thistle, make sure it has small holes specifically designed for these tiny seeds.

Finch Feeders

Finch feeders are specially designed to accommodate the feeding habits of birds such as goldfinches, house finches, and purple finches who love nyjer thistle seeds. Some finch feeders are styled like glass mason jars, creating an attractive and functional addition to your garden. Ensure the feeder you choose is easy to clean and has proper drainage to keep thistle seeds fresh and mold-free.

Thistle Feeders

Thistle feeders, like the thistle sock, are another great way to serve thistle seeds to birds during the winter months. A thistle sock is a sock-shaped, fine-mesh, synthetic bag filled with thistle seed. It allows birds like finches, doves, and siskins to cling to the bag while feeding on the seeds.

Tips for Thistle Feeders:

  • Place thistle feeders in an area visible from your window to enjoy birdwatching.
  • Clean feeders regularly to ensure bird health and prevent mold.
  • Hang feeders at least 5 feet above the ground to deter unwanted visitors.

By providing different thistle feeder options such as seed feeders, finch feeders, and thistle feeders, you can create a haven for various bird species in your backyard during the winter months. Your efforts will be rewarded with the delightful sight of colorful, healthy birds enjoying their nutritious meals.

Alternatives and Additions to Thistle Seed

Thistle seeds are a popular choice for many birds in cold winter months. However, offering a variety of bird food can attract an even wider range of bird species to your yard. Here are some great options to consider.

Sunflower Seeds

Black-oil sunflower seeds are a popular choice for bird food, as they have thin shells that are easy for birds to crack open. This makes them accessible to a broader range of birds, such as woodpeckers, jays, and nuthatches. Sunflower chips, which are hulled sunflower seeds, can be used as well, offering even more convenience for birds.

Seed Blends

Mixed seed blends, containing a variety of seeds like millet, oats, and sunflower seeds, are another excellent alternative to thistle seed. This diverse mix of seeds can satisfy the nutritional needs of a wide range of birds, such as quails, sparrows, and doves. Millet, in particular, is a small grain that can be an appealing food source for smaller birds.

Sterilized Bird Feed

Sterilized bird food is a great way to ensure the quality of your bird seed. Many bird enthusiasts opt for sterilized feed, as it can help reduce waste germination and minimize the spread of any undesirable plants in your backyard. Sterilized options are often available for feed like niger seeds or mixed seed blends.


Oats are another excellent supplement to your bird food offerings. Being high in nutrients, oats can provide essential energy for birds during the winter. This can be particularly beneficial for ground-feeding birds like quail.

Lastly, don’t forget to include seeds with high oil content in your bird food lineup. Birds need the energy provided by these oil-rich seeds to help them through the colder months. Black-oil sunflower seeds and niger seeds, which contain 30-40% oil, are among the favorites for this purpose.

Feeding Tips for Winter Birds

Winter season presents unique challenges to birds, as they struggle to find food sources amid the cold weather and snow. As a bird enthusiast, you can help your backyard friends thrive by providing thistle seeds and other nutritious food options.

  • To ensure a varied diet for visiting winter birds like finches, sparrows, titmice, jays, woodpeckers, chickadees, and cardinals, consider offering a mix of seeds in your garden source. In addition to thistle seeds, you can provide high-fat options such as nuts, lard, and suet, which supply extra energy to birds during the cold months source. Black sunflower seeds are another excellent choice that appeals to a wide range of bird species.
  • It’s essential to establish a clean and safe feeding area for your backyard birds. If you’re using a platform feeder or feeding birds on a deck or balcony, only offer as much seed as they can consume in one day source. For ground-feeding birds, rotate the feeding area regularly and make sure to rake up and remove debris and droppings. Cleaning feeders with soap and a disinfectant once a week helps maintain a hygienic environment for your feathered friends.
  • Clinging birds like finches and chickadees prefer tube feeders or thistle socks for their thistle seed consumption. Choose a feeder with small, thistle-seed-sized holes or a sock-shaped, fine-mesh, synthetic bag source. These feeder options make it easier for the birds to access the seeds while keeping the feeding area neat.
  • Lastly, don’t forget to provide water for your backyard birds during the winter months. A shallow dish or birdbath with lukewarm water should do the trick. Monitor the water source closely, ensuring it doesn’t freeze and is regularly replenished.

By following these feeding tips, you can give the birds in your garden a valuable source of sustenance and help them thrive during the winter season.

Other Foods for Winter Bird Feeding

During the winter months, it’s essential to provide a variety of food options for birds, as their natural sources may be scarce. In addition to thistle seed, there are numerous other foods that can attract a diverse array of birds to your yard.


Fruits, such as apples and other winter berries, can serve as an excellent food source for birds during colder months. Simply slice the apples in half and hang them from tree branches or place them in a platform feeder. This attracts birds like robins, waxwings, and mockingbirds.


Nectar is not just for hummingbirds! In the wintertime, many birds can enjoy sweet nectar as an alternative to seeds and insects. Make your own simple mixture by combining one part sugar with four parts water, and serve it in a nectar feeder. This will attract species like orioles and woodpeckers.


Insects are an essential food source for many birds, such as chickadees and warblers, who rely on the nutrients they provide. Mealworms, which are similar to the insects ordinarily found in nature, can be bought from pet stores and served to birds either live or dried.


Worms are another nutritious option for birds. You can offer live earthworms or purchase dried worms from a pet store. Place them in a dish or platform feeder, and species like robins, thrushes, and wrens will likely pay a visit.

Grass Seeds

Grass seeds, like those found in your lawn or fields, can also make for an appetizing meal for winter birds. Scatter them across a platform feeder or directly on the ground to encourage the arrival of species like sparrows and mourning doves.


Suet, a solidified fat mixed with seeds or nuts, is a popular choice for sustaining birds through cold weather. Providing suet in a dedicated suet feeder will satisfy the cravings of woodpeckers, nuthatches, and other suet-lovers who require extra energy from these high-fat meals.


Lastly, making use of oils like sunflower oil and peanut oil for birdseed mixtures can provide extra nutrition for feathered friends during wintertime. Adding oil-rich seeds like black oil sunflower seeds to your bird feeders can attract birds like cardinals and grosbeaks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which birds are drawn to thistle seed during winter?

Thistle seed, also known as nyjer seed, is a popular choice for many bird species during winter months. Birds that are attracted to thistle seed include finches, sparrows, doves, goldfinches, chickadees, titmice, juncos, siskins, and redpolls. These birds find the high oil content in thistle seed to be a valuable source of energy during the cold season.

What types of birds prefer thistle seed in cold months?

Mostly, small seed-eating birds and winter finches tend to prefer thistle seed. These birds are drawn to the rich oil content within the seed, which ranges from 30-40%. Some examples of these birds are goldfinches, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos.

Is thistle seed a good choice for winter bird feeding?

Yes, thistle seed is an excellent choice for winter bird feeding due to its high oil content and easy accessibility for seed-eating birds. The high oil content provides a valuable energy source for birds struggling to stay warm during cold months. The small size and thin shell of thistle seeds makes them easy for birds to crack and consume.

Which winter birds favor nyjer seed?

Nyjer seed, also known as thistle seed, is a favorite among many winter birds, including American goldfinches, pine siskins, house finches, dark-eyed juncos, mourning doves, and song sparrows. These birds appreciate the high energy content and the easily cracked shell that nyjer seed offers.

Are finches likely to eat thistle seed in winter?

Finches are indeed likely to eat thistle seed in winter. The high oil content in thistle seed provides a valuable source of energy for finches during the cold season. Examples of finch species attracted to thistle seed include American goldfinches, house finches, and pine siskins.

Do any specific bird species prefer thistle seed when it’s cold?

While thistle seed is a popular choice for many bird species during winter, some birds are particularly fond of it. These species include dark-eyed juncos, pine siskins, and American goldfinches.

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