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.
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.
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)
- 38% fat
- 16% protein
- 34% carbohydrates
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!
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.
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.
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 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!