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 🙂 )

safflower seeds for birds

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

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 is 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 can accumulate under 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?

northern cardinal eating 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 seed along with other popular foods like sunflower seeds 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 only safflower in a feeder.

What doesn’t eat safflower seeds?

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

While many birds enjoy eating safflower seed, but this small white seed is most famous for the birds and animals that DON’T eat it, 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. 🙂

And in my backyard, the starlings will eat just a little bit of safflower, but not much. It sure doesn’t make them go crazy like sunflower seeds, suet, peanuts, or corn!

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 Chewy and 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:

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 a low amount of 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 (or rarely) 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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I use only safflower seeds and it goes fast BUT recently there are seeds all over the ground. The whole seeds—–Why?

  2. I was researching what bird seed that house sparrows will not eat and I found that Safflower seeds and to a some extent striped sunflower seeds. House sparrows are able to eat stripe sunflower seeds but will not eat safflower seeds. I am not sure why you mentioned house sparrows eat safflower seeds as well. I hope house finches will learn to eat safflower seeds soon since I am slowly making it as my major bird seed. Can you advise what bird seeds that house sparrows will NOT eat? I am from NM.

  3. I used safflower seed for the first time and squirrels avoid it like the plague…blackbirds will come through because it’s a mix but they don’t hang around long. I will always buy it.

  4. I am new at bird feeding but I already am ready to quit because the starling and squirrels are eating everything including safflower seed and the other birds are going elsewhere to eat. I have lost the joy of exploring the different birds but mainly the previously mentioned are what I see. My hope is wait till winter and hope the starlings are gone. I can baffle squirrels so I will see.

  5. Hi,
    I happen to see your question. Most bird and animal food is usually marked “not for human consumption” or something along that line. Some brands out there do have some sort of preservative in the food, but others either have no such additives, or are actually “organic”. Nevertheless, there may be issues concerning how birdseed is processed–maybe it’s not quite as clean as it might be for people–or it may be exposed somehow to things that do not bother birds, but might make a human ill. There are many products in North America that use safflower seeds, flowers, etc in human food. Safflower oil is a common cooking oil, for example. However, there ARE safflower seeds that are labelled as “food grade”, and if your local health food store or market does not carry it, you might be able to find some online. I found a couple of stores through a quick Google search. I’m not going to link them here since I have no way of vouching for the sites’ actual quality of products, or even if they are reliable sellers.
    (There are a bunch of shops on Etsy–some might be okay, and others not so much). Just read carefully, especially if there are any customer reviews. Good luck.

  6. Thank you. I’ve read mixed comments about this. I feed solely whole sunflower seeds in 6 feeders, and in one feeder on my window I’ve been putting sunflower hearts in that some chickadees but mostly the goldfinches love. Across the road is a farm and if I feed anything else, we’ll have their sparrows over here. I will try some safflower and see how that goes. Thanks!

  7. Is it safe for humans to eat this package or do they add chemicals in it to preserve it? In my country humans eat this and it is great vegan food but I can’t find it where I live.

  8. The only thing that prevents the hordes of very fat, very aggressive squirrels in my neighborhood from emptying my Safflower platform feeders in minutes is the fact I have 4 dogs.
    Squirrels LOVE Safflower seeds!!

  9. 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. 🙂

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

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

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

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

  20. 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.

  21. 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?

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

  23. 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.

  24. 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? 🙂

  25. 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?

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

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

  28. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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!

    1. 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. 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.