What Birds Eat Thistle? (Species and Benefits of Thistle Seeds)

Thistle seeds, also known as nyjer seeds, are derived from the African yellow daisy and serve as an important food source for various bird species. These seeds are unrelated to the thistle plant, despite their colloquial name “thistle seed.” Rich in oil, they provide birds with valuable energy and nutrients necessary for survival.

Many birds are attracted to thistle seeds, with species such as goldfinches, siskins, and redpolls being especially fond of this food source. Because thistle seeds are high in oil content, they offer birds the energy needed to maintain their daily activities and living conditions. Providing thistle seeds in your backyard can help attract these birds and give bird enthusiasts an excellent opportunity to observe these fascinating creatures up close.

Key Takeaways

  • Thistle seeds, a high-energy food source, attract various bird species like goldfinches, siskins, and redpolls
  • Providing thistle seeds in your backyard can help attract these birds for observation and enjoyment
  • Thistle seeds are not only a rich source of energy for birds, but also contribute to their overall well-being

Thistle Seed Overview

Thistle seed, often referred to as nyjer seed, comes from the African yellow daisy (Guizotia abyssinica) and is a favorite among many bird species. Though not related to the thistle plant, it is commonly known as thistle seed due to its appearance. This small, black seed is high in oil, making it an attractive and nutritious food source for various backyard birds.

Nyjer seeds resemble sunflower seeds but are smaller in size, allowing them to fit effortlessly in bird feeders and provide easy access for feeding. The oil content in these seeds ranges from 30 to 40%, granting birds a substantial energy boost.

Read Next: What Birds Eat Thistle in the Winter?

Birds That Eat Thistle Seed

Thistle seeds, also known as nyjer seeds, come from the African yellow daisy (Guizotia abyssinica) and are an excellent nutritional source for many bird species due to their high oil content1. A variety of birds are known to enjoy thistle seeds, and by providing these seeds in your backyard, you can attract a diverse range of feathered friends.

Finches are among the most common birds that consume thistle seeds, particularly American goldfinches, house finches, and purple finches2. Song sparrows, titmice, juncos, and dark-eyed juncos also benefit from the energy-packed nyjer seeds, making them frequent visitors of thistle seed feeders3.

Siskins and redpolls, including common redpolls and hoary redpolls, are drawn to thistle seeds as well, especially during the winter months when other natural food sources are scarce4. Chickadees, such as black-capped chickadees and Carolina chickadees, are also known to enjoy the nutritious seeds5.

Thistle seeds are not limited to small bird species; even larger birds like mourning doves and California quail have been observed snacking on them6. Indigo buntings, woodpeckers, and thrushes may also be attracted to thistle seed feeders on occasion, adding to the variety of birds you can observe in your yard7.

While orioles, hummingbirds, and starlings are not as commonly seen feeding on thistle seeds, they may still make an appearance if the seed is available, broadening the range of avian visitors to your backyard8.

Benefits of Thistle Seed

Thistle seeds are a popular food choice for many bird species, particularly seed-eating birds and winter finches. With their high nutritional value, these seeds offer several benefits for the birds that consume them.

  • One significant benefit of thistle seeds is their oil content. Rich in essential oils, thistle seeds provide birds with a valuable energy source, especially during the cold winter months when birds need to maintain their body temperature. The fat present in the seeds also helps birds build up energy reserves to sustain them during migration.
  • In addition to providing energy, thistle seeds are packed with essential nutrients, including protein, vitamins, and minerals. The high protein content in these seeds promotes growth and tissue repair, contributing to the overall health and well-being of birds. The vitamins and minerals found in thistle seeds support the immune system, bone health, and other vital functions in birds’ bodies.
  • Moreover, thistle seeds are known for their diverse nutritional profile, offering various advantages for the birds that eat them. For instance, they contain fiber, which is important for digestion and gut health in birds, improving nutrient absorption. Not only that, but their relatively small size and dark color make them visually appealing to birds, enticing them to visit bird feeders stocked with thistle seed.

Attracting Thistle-Eating Birds

Choose Tube Feeders or Mesh Feeders

To make your backyard more inviting to thistle-eating birds, you can offer them thistle seeds or nyjer seeds in specialized bird feeders, such as tube feeders or mesh feeders, designed to accommodate their size and feeding habits. These feeders often come in a tube shape with small mesh or tiny feeding ports that keep larger birds from accessing the seeds. Thistle feeders typically have smaller feeding ports and a mesh or mesh-like exterior, allowing birds to easily cling to the feeder while picking out seeds. Tube feeders can also be an option, though make sure they have smaller holes for these fine seeds.

These feeders will prevent waste and help keep the seeds dry, ensuring a fresh, appetizing meal for your feathered friends. Additionally, keeping sunflower seeds on hand in separate feeders can attract a more diverse range of bird species, including some that enjoy both sunflower and thistle seeds.

Clean Your Feeders

To keep the nyjer seed fresh and give your feathered friends the best dining experience, you might want to periodically clean your thistle seed feeder. This helps prevent mold and ensures a healthy feeding environment for birds. Additionally, proper feeder placement can make a difference. Hanging the feeder in an open area, away from predators and busy foot traffic, will encourage more birds to visit the feeding station.

Make Sure Birds Have Nesting Materials

Offering suitable nesting materials can also play a pivotal role in attracting thistle-eating birds to breed in your backyard. Providing twigs, grass, and even animal fur can encourage these species to build nests nearby, increasing the likelihood that they make your yard their home. And during colder seasons or in areas with harsh weather conditions, consider providing birdhouses and sheltered nesting locations, ensuring that the birds stay safe and comfortable.

Provide a Water Source

Another factor to consider when trying to attract thistle-eating birds is the availability of water. Providing a clean, fresh water source, such as a shallow birdbath, allows these birds to drink and maintain their feathers’ cleanliness, which is crucial for their overall health.

By offering thistle seeds and nyjer seeds in appropriate feeders, supplementing with sunflower seeds, providing nesting materials and shelter, and ensuring access to fresh water, your backyard will become an inviting haven for thistle-eating birds. With a little effort and some careful planning, you can create an environment that supports the health and well-being of these beautiful and beneficial birds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do finches prefer thistle seed?

Yes, finches, especially goldfinches, have a preference for thistle seed, also known as nyjer seed. This high-energy food source provides essential nutrients for the birds, helping them maintain their energy levels and overall health. Additionally, the small size of the seeds is well-suited to the finches’ beaks, making it easier for them to consume.

What is the difference between nyjer and thistle seed?

Nyjer seed is actually a type of thistle seed. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, true thistle seed comes from plants in the Asteraceae family, while nyjer seed comes from the Guizotia abyssinica plant, which is native to Ethiopia. Both seeds offer similar nutritional value and attract a variety of seed-eating birds, particularly small finch species like goldfinches, siskins, and redpolls.

Are there any birds that avoid thistle seed?

While many birds enjoy thistle seed, larger species like cardinals, jays, and woodpeckers may find it difficult to consume due to its small size. Thus, they are more likely to prefer larger seeds like sunflower seeds or safflower seeds. Nevertheless, birds’ diets can vary, so it’s possible that some individuals might still be attracted to thistle seeds.

Do squirrels eat thistle seed?

Squirrels typically do not eat thistle seed, primarily because they prefer other types of food like nuts, fruits, and larger seeds. Moreover, the tiny size and texture of thistle seeds make them less appealing to squirrels. This is good news for bird enthusiasts, as thistle seeds in bird feeders are less likely to be targeted by these opportunistic feeders.

Which feeder is best for thistle seed?

The best feeder for thistle seed is a tube feeder with small openings designed specifically for the consumption of small seeds. These feeders allow birds like finches and siskins to easily access the seeds while preventing larger birds and squirrels from reaching them. Some specialized thistle feeders, also known as finch feeders, even have mesh covers that finches can cling to while feeding.

Do cardinals eat thistle seed?

Cardinals prefer larger seeds, such as sunflower and safflower seeds, over thistle seed. Due to their larger beaks, cardinals might find it challenging to consume small thistle seeds. However, this doesn’t mean they would never eat them. In some cases, cardinals might still be attracted to thistle seed feeders, especially if other food sources are scarce.


  1. https://www.thespruce.com/birds-that-eat-nyjer-seed-386533 2 3
  2. https://www.birdadvisors.com/birds-that-like-thistle-seed/ 2 3
  3. https://www.thayerbirding.com/what-birds-eat-thistle-seed/ 2 3
  4. https://learnbirdwatching.com/what-kind-of-birds-eat-thistle/ 2
  5. https://www.backtobirds.com/what-birds-eat-thistle/
  6. https://www.thespruce.com/birds-that-eat-nyjer-seed-386533
  7. https://www.birdadvisors.com/birds-that-like-thistle-seed/
  8. https://www.thayerbirding.com/what-birds-eat-thistle-seed/

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