Safflower is a great go-to seed for many types of birds, with the added benefit of being disdained by some less welcome backyard guests. But what exactly is safflower seed, which birds eat it, and how can you offer it at your feeding station?
What Is Safflower Seed?
The safflower we are familiar with as birdseed is the seed of the common safflower plant, Carthamus tinctorius, an herbaceous annual in the same family as sunflowers and thistles. Safflower blooms in red, orange, and yellow, with somewhat scruffy foliage. These plants prefer arid climates with seasonal rainfall, but you can also cultivate these plants in backyards.
We also cultivate safflower as a commercial crop, not just for its edible seeds, but also for its oil. Safflower is used in dyes, tea, and engine lubricants, and is one of the oldest cultivated crops in history. Archeological evidence shows safflower cultivation in Egypt at approximately 3500 BC, as well as in Mesopotamia at approximately 2500 BC.
Safflower seeds are slightly smaller than sunflower seeds but have a similar oblong shape with one end somewhat rounded and the other end pointed. These seeds are white or ivory, and have sharper ridges down their length than sunflower seeds. They are high in fat, protein, and fiber, making safflower seed a nutritious addition to any bird feeding station.
See also: 10 Best Foods for Bird Feeding
Birds That Eat Safflower Seed
Birds with stronger bills that are familiar with black oil sunflower seed will also happily eat safflower seed, including:
Other birds may also nibble at safflower, particularly if it is the only seed you offer. Some birds may break open the hulls immediately to get the seed meat, while others may cache safflower seeds just as they would store sunflower seeds.
Just as important as which birds enjoy safflower seed is which birds don’t typically like these seeds. Starlings and grackles don’t favor safflower, making it an ideal option to discourage these bully birds from emptying feeders. Safflower has a somewhat bitter taste, and squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and other feeder guests are also less likely to gorge on these seeds.
How to Offer Safflower Seed in the Yard
It can be challenging to offer safflower seed to backyard birds. At first, birds may not take readily to the seed change, particularly if sunflower seed is still available. Mixing the two seeds together is a good way to encourage birds to try safflower. As they get accustomed to the new seed, you can gradually reduce the proportion of sunflower seeds in the mix. Removing other seed mixes that include sunflower will also help birds make the switch to a new type of birdseed.
You can offer safflower to birds in any feeder that readily accommodates sunflower seeds, including tube, hopper, and tray feeders. Feeders with wider mesh can also hold safflower seed. Or, you can mix the seed into homemade suet to add more nutrition for suet-loving birds. Tossing a handful or two of safflower on the ground will also give ground-feeding birds such as doves and quail safflower to sample, just as they will feed beneath hanging feeders for any fallen seed.
If you live in an arid climate, you can even grow your own safflower seed similarly to growing sunflowers. Plant the seeds in a sunny spot and water them intermittently to simulate the seasonal rains these seeds prefer. The plants will eventually grow 1-5 feet tall, and the heavy blooms will ripen into a bumper crop of safflower seeds. Birds may feed naturally from the ripe seed heads, or the heads can be clipped and dried to offer to birds at a later time.
See also: How to Plant the Perfect Birdseed Garden
Safflower seed can be a great alternative in backyard feeders, especially if your feeders are often overrun with bully birds. The more you understand about this seed, the more easily you can help your backyard birds adapt to new foods while minimizing the seed lost to overly aggressive species or feeder pests.