Safflower Seed 101: Everything You Need To Know!

Safflower seed is a popular food for backyard birds. And the funny part is most people (myself included) find safflower useful not because of the birds it attracts, but for the creatures that DON’T eat safflower! (More on this below 🙂 )


Today, you will learn everything you need to know about safflower!

So what is safflower and where does it come from?


Safflower seed is harvested from the safflower plant (Carthamus tinctorius), which is an annual that resembles thistle and has beautiful orange flowers.  The plant is grown not only for the seed but also for the oil content.

Safflower Seed For Wild Birds

Once the safflower seed matures and harvested from the flower, it is ready to be fed to the birds! The seed is small, white, angular, and hard. For reference, they are a bit larger than a popcorn kernel and slightly smaller than black oil sunflower.


Even though the seeds are small, most birds crack open the hard shell to eat the meat inside. Some birds, like doves, swallow the whole safflower seed.

safflower seeds

Something I really like about using safflower seed…


There is never a big mess of safflower shells to clean up, especially when compared to the massive piles of sunflower husks that accumulate under my feeders! Even though a white shell is left behind after the seed is cracked apart, they are tiny, and it just seems like they blow away, decompose, etc.


*Nutrition content: (Similar to black-oil sunflower)

Lastly, safflower has a nice supply of fat and protein, which provide the necessary energy and nutrition wild birds require.

  • 38% fat
  • 16% protein
  • 34% carbohydrates

Related: Bird Seed 101: The 10 Best Types For Wild Birds


What birds eat safflower seeds?


The birds that will commonly eat safflower at your feeding station include:

  • Cardinals, jays, chickadees, nuthatches, grosbeaks, titmice, doves, finches (House, Purple), and House Sparrows.


Have you ever used safflower seed before in your backyard?


If not, I want to warn you that it may take a bit for your birds to get accustomed to this new food. Don’t panic if you put out a feeder full of safflower seed and it’s ignored at first.


For first time users, I think it’s best to mix it in with the foods you have been using or buy a birdseed blend that includes a bit of safflower along with other popular foods like sunflower and peanuts. A combination of 50% sunflower and 50% safflower is an excellent mix for attracting cardinals! Once your birds are acclimated and used to eating, then it’s OK to use straight safflower in a feeder.


Now let’s talk about the BEST feature of safflower!


Yes, many birds enjoy eating safflower seed, but this small white seed is most famous for the birds and animals that DON’T eat it. Specifically, three of the most annoying pest animals that come to your feeders don’t normally touch safflower, making some people call it a “miracle seed.”


Are you ready to have your mind blown?


Squirrels, grackles, & starlings don’t eat safflower!

safflower seed prevents squirrels, grackles, starlings

Can you believe it? There is a food that exists that your favorite songbirds will readily eat but the pesky squirrels and obnoxious blackbirds should not touch!


Safflower seed is an excellent food to use in a feeder that you can’t seem to stop squirrels from jumping on. Or if flocks of starlings are taking over your backyard, try using safflower seed for a few days to get them to leave.


I don’t know the exact reason why squirrels and blackbirds don’t like safflower. Supposedly it has a bitter taste, or maybe the shell is too hard for the small amount of food inside?


Regardless, give it a try and see if it works! It’s estimated that 90% of squirrels won’t eat safflower. My apologies if you have one of the super squirrels that will eat safflower all day long with a smile on their face. 🙂 


How to use safflower at your bird feeding station?


In my backyard, I am almost always using safflower seed in one form or another. To view my current set up, check out the LIVE stream below of my bird feeding station: Can you spot any safflower?


In general, there are three ways to use safflower:


1. In a bird seed mix.


The most popular way to use safflower seed is part of a general bird seed mix. It’s common for safflower to be mixed with sunflower, peanuts, millet, and/or corn.


To help save a bit of money, I generally buy my bird seed in bulk then make my own mixes. My favorite homemade blend is black-oil sunflower, safflower, and shelled peanuts.


2. On it’s own.

safflower seed for wild birds

View Price on Amazon


You can purchase individual bags of safflower seed for your birds. Typically you can find ones with weight ranges between 5 – 20 lbs.


Individual safflower is used in the same types of bird feeders you put your general bird seed mixes, such as hoppers, tubes, and trays.


Generally, I include safflower seed as part of my general bird seed mix that I put in my hopper or tray feeders. The only times I use just safflower seed is if I have a blackbird problem and need to change my foods to discourage them.


3. In a seed cylinder.

safflower seed cylinder for birds

View Price on Amazon


Lastly, it’s possible to buy safflower seed cylinders. I love the concept of seed cylinders, but personally, the birds in my backyard never seem to enjoy eating them as much as regular, loose bird food.


Where to buy safflower seed?


There are two places you can purchase safflower; either going to a local store or buying online.


Where you ultimately decide to buy comes down to answering the following question?


Do you value the lowest prices or want convenience?


1. Buying local = lowest price.


It’s the least expensive to buy safflower (or any bird food) at a local retailer. When comparing the cost of purchasing online, there is really no comparison because of the high cost of shipping heavy bags of bird seed.


The types of stores that typically sell safflower include home improvement, pet, feed, and specialty bird food stores.


2. Buying online = most convenient.


I have purchased safflower seed online from Amazon. As with buying most things online, it’s easy, fast, and convenient.



But as of this writing, buying bird food online is much more costly than purchasing from a local store. There are times it’s 2-3x more expensive to buy the SAME stuff online. I even wrote an article about this topic:


I keep running experiments and tests and am continually looking to find somewhere online to buy birdseed affordably, but I have not seen a website that is less expensive than getting in your car and going to a local business. 🙂


Conclusion and Final Thoughts

safflower seeds for birds

Safflower seed is a great food to feed your birds. It’s healthy, inexpensive, and attracts a wide array of songbirds. I also like the fact that the shells create little mess because the seed is relatively small. And many birds (like doves) swallow it whole.


But my favorite feature of safflower will always be the fact that squirrels and blackbirds DO NOT eat it. How such a wonderful seed evolved is beyond me, but using safflower is an effective way to solve two of the most common problems backyard birders face.


Whether you decide to include safflower seed as part of a bird seed mix or you decide to buy safflower in bulk, I think you are making a great decision to include it at your bird feeding station!


35 responses to “Safflower Seed 101: Everything You Need To Know!”

  1. Colette M Kadrich says:

    Well the squirrels don’t like safflower seeds but my Chipmunk sure does. He’ll down a big log within 5 days. Probably feeds his family too. 🙂

  2. Heidi Dougherty says:

    We use a container called the gamma2 vittles vault. It is great for dog food, bird seed amd horse food. Keeps feed fresh and keeps out mice. They are stackable too.

  3. Jane Proctor says:

    Petroleum jelly or WD-40 on the poles. It is fun to watch the squirrels and Rocky the Raccoon slide down the poles. Also, you might want to install an unsightly squirrel baffle and keep your feeder away from trees and the flying squirrels.

  4. Roy Easton says:

    Starlings didn’t eat it in my feeders until it got really cold and a lot of snow and now they are emptying it ahead of my cardinals and finches. In better weather they didn’t seem to bother it.

  5. Augeydoggy says:

    Ended up using Walmart – $1 cheaper than Tractor Supply for 7 pound bag, and free shipping.

  6. Randy says:

    I’m in Central NJ also, have you tried Tractor Supply?

  7. Tom Sweeney says:

    I’ve had problems with rats but squirrels have not bothered my feeders.
    Tom Sweeney

  8. Ralph Barnett says:

    You can buy bulk bird seed of all types at Order $50.00 and less than 50lbs and it’s free shipping. Peanut splits are $13.50 for 10lbs, Sunflower hearts course, medium of fine for $14.40 for 10lbs and many other seeds. Check it out.

  9. Verbatim says:

    I haven’t seen a single house sparrow on my feeders since I switched to all safflower, too. They just don’t like it.

  10. Augeydoggy says:

    I have used just safflower for several years because of squirrel, starling, and grackle problems, and it is effective. Jays also don’t love it. There is one squirrel and one chipmunk that root around the base for unopened seeds, mostly dropped by doves. No house sparrow problem, my biggest crowd is house finches, who also use the goldfinches nyjer tube. We get lots of cardinals, rose finches, chickadees, wrens, tits, mourning doves, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers (for which we also have white suet). If I put anything else, I am inundated with the unwanted species, particularly starlings. I’ve thought about small bird feeders, but really everyone seems happy with the safflower. I get it 50 pound bags from Amazon, can’t find anything locally that comes close in price. Am in Central NJ.

  11. David says:

    That’s interesting. I live in NYC and the squirrels are constantly running up and down my fire escape trying to find food to eat. I have one squirrel friend who will climb through my bedroom window, jump on my bed, and feast on a walnut I have set next to me. I am using safflower seeds to feed the house finches and the squirrels are not interested. They are more interested in the peanuts I set out for the blue jays but I have a secret weapon. I sprinkle the peanuts with chili powder and the squirrels stay away. I love squirrels. I just don’t want them eating all of the bird food in 15 minutes. I have a pesky black and white spotted pigeon that’s a nuisance too. I call her Cruella Deville. The birds and squirrels are smart, clever, and mischievous. I had to learn to outsmart them but it hasn’t been easy.

  12. David says:

    I live in NYC and I’ve been using safflower seeds for several months now. The problem with urban birding is that invasive house sparrows are everywhere. There is a sparrow nest under the air conditioning unit one floor above mine. I’ve tried all sorts of methods to keep the sparrows away but none have worked. Sometimes I would have 30 house sparrows on my fire escape going after my bird seed. Goldfinches and house finches be damned. I’ve been on a mission to find bird seed that only native birds will eat. Safflower seed has been a godsend. I will occasionally get house sparrows that will sample the safflower but for the most part they stay away. I mostly see house finches feeding on the safflower. Sometimes I see mourning doves too. Besides safflower I feed nyjer to the goldfinches and whole peanuts to the blue jays. Mission accomplished.

  13. Robin says:

    I realize that I have GOLDEN Safflower Seed. Weird smell.

  14. Robin says:

    Does safflower seed have a sour smell? I just got a big bag and it’s brownish in color and has a strong smell. If it’s bad, I just ruined a bunch of other seed with mixing it together. Ugh! Help!

  15. Jane Looby says:

    The Grackles or Starlings won’t come to my feeders with Safflower seed in them. Other birds will come and eat.

  16. Emily Shepherd says:

    Squirrels definitely DO eat safflower seeds!

  17. Beth says:

    I have tons of beautiful birds that come all day long and eat the safflower. And it is true I have not had a squirrel problem. However, pesky little chipmunks have discovered it and I see them devouring it sometimes.

  18. Linda Laferriere says:

    Is golden safflower different than regular?

  19. Sam Glavic says:

    Hi! We live down by Wright Patterson AFB & have tons of birds at our feeders & we love them!
    Do you only have safflower in your bottom platform feeder? If so, the grackles, red winged black birds & the starlings were still eating from it right now (9:20-9:30am 2/28/20). And they were also eating from the tube feeders with the sunflower hearts in them, from the platform. I understand why you’d have them so close together for video/camera purposes but would it be best to keep them further apart for my own backyard, to deter the larger birds from eating out of the tubes? We have large groups of starlings that come in & take over all of our feeders & it’s rather discouraging to see that they’re still going for the safflower seeds when we’d like for them to be gone. Do you have any suggestions for us?

  20. Pissed off says:

    Here on Long Island, the squirrels are DESTROYING the safflower blocks I put out 🙁

  21. Jody Eriksson says:

    Seems like a cool idea- we have so many of those fake ravens from our Halloween decorations… I’ll have to try that!! 🙂

  22. DonMc says:

    We switched to safflower seeds in one platform feeder a couple of weeks ago, and a couple of days ago the birds finally started to visit that feeder. Before that, only a couple of chickadees came. I’ve only seen one squirrel so far, and he only foraged around for a little while (looking for the sunflower seeds that used to be in that feeder I suspect) and then he left. Note that squirrels used to be constant pests in all of the platform feeders, and that we live in Wisconsin. Until reading Scott’s article, I was not aware of the relatively small mess created by the Safflower seeds compared to Sunflower, and that is a big plus. Until today I didn’t know that Doves would eat them, but I just saw 2 doves in that platform enjoying their new food, which is another bonus to me. Cardinals, Finches and Chickadees are frequent visitors, and that is what I was hoping for. So far, so good !! I’ll report back here if the squirrels suddenly take a liking, as we can have harsh winters here. That’s a really nice live feeder cam setup that you provide Scott ! Thanks.

  23. Rachael says:

    My chippers love my safflower too. I did find a trick I think though that worked to deter squirrels and chippers that like to crawl up the pole to the feeder. I bought one of those black raven birds at a craft shop and wrapped the legs of it around the pole so it looks like a bird is perched on the pole halfway up. Since I have done that, the squirrels and the chippers have not touched the feeder and the songbirds still visit. I don’t know, maybe worth a try? 🙂

  24. Tina H says:

    I enjoyed your article. The only thing is I was looking for the best way to store safflower seed. I have noticed little moths inside the original bag at times and I have even seen moths in my plastic, durable container with a twist top. How can I prevent these moths from appearing?

  25. Jane Looby says:

    I’ve found that if just plain suet, no seeds in it, is used the House Sparrows won’t go for it.

  26. Nyjetgrl says:

    I too have squirrels and grackles that just eat it up… bummer

  27. Tom Zeeh says:

    My squirrels gobble up safflower, unfortunately. So let’s cut out the “squirrels don’t like safflower” baloney.

  28. Larry Scully says:

    I got the desired result by switching to safflower totally. More cardinals and varieties, less squirrels and blackbirds. My question is do you mix black seed with the safflower in winter (I live in Ohio) or maintain?

  29. Reese coats says:

    My squirrels and neighbors love safflower seed, hot pepper suet snd hot pepper seeds…after years of avoiding them. So disappointed. So change your article to be more factual saying “most squirrels won’t eat it.”

  30. Mike M says:

    Sad to report but here in Ann Arbor MI chipmunks love safflower seed. They return again and again to pack their cheeks and I assume to store it in their burrow. Until the feeder is empty!

  31. carol says:

    I will never use this since house sparrows like it. They are terrible birds and I’ve seen them try to destroy and take over a bluebird box. No wonder other birds run them off. I do too!

  32. Roseanne G says:

    Today I filled my bird feeder with only safflower seeds and my regulars would come, put it on their mouth and spit it out! So now I mixed my old feed with the safflower seeds and the birds are returning to eat. It looks like they had a hard time with the safflower seeds. The squirrel on the other hand, took one bite and jumped off the feeder! I’m hoping that my regulars get used to the safflower seeds so I can eventually use only that. Time will tell!

    • Scott says:

      Hey Roseanne! Yes, I agree with your assessment, the birds need a bit of time to get used to safflower. They definitely prefer sunflower (but so do the squirrels!)

  33. Sandy says:

    Great article! I have a feeder with safflower seed and enjoy the variety of birds attracted to this feeder. I also have a suet feeder and a feeder with a cylinder type of feed which both contain every seed except safflower. Unfortunately, the Starlings love these feeders as much as the Woodpeckers and other birds. I plan to switch to safflower seed for several days to see if the Starlings find a new home. I love your Live Cams, and tonight I saw a raccoon take an interest in the feeders you have on the ground for the squirrels.

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