Safflower seeds are a useful but relatively uncommon type of birdseed, but because of their great nutrition and which birds eat them, they are gradually growing in popularity among backyard birders. Learning more about safflower seeds can help birders decide whether this seed would make a good addition to their feeding stations and how they can best incorporate it into their bird feeding menu.
About Safflowers and Their Seeds
Safflower seeds are the seeds of the annual safflower plant, Carthamus tinctorius. With its beautiful red, yellow, and orange blooms, safflowers can be an attractive addition to gardens. The bulbous, thistle-like shape and scraggly foliage of the plant, however, can put off gardeners who prefer more groomed flowers in their landscaping. The seeds, on the other hand, are ideal for birds, and safflower is cultivated as a crop in many areas, including the United States, Canada, India, Mexico, Ethiopia, China, Argentina, and Kazakhstan.
Safflowers require arid climates with seasonal rainfall, and most safflower crops are grown for the oil of the seeds and the dyes of the plant. Birdseed cultivation is growing, however, as more birders discover the value and usefulness of this seed.
As birdseed, safflower seeds are slightly smaller than black oil sunflower seeds but similar in their tapered shape. They are white seeds and are high in protein, fat, and fiber that can provide superior nutrition to many different backyard birds.
Birds That Eat Safflower Seeds
While safflower may not be the first seed choice for birds accustomed to more familiar fare, once the seed is introduced, they can grow fond of it. Bird species that regularly feed on safflower seeds include:
Other bird species may also sample safflower seeds if they are available, but the best feature of these seeds is not the birds that eat them, but the birds that won't. Safflower seeds have a bitter flavor and a different shape than other types of birdseed, and grackles, blackbirds, and European starlings will typically leave these seeds alone. This makes safflower an ideal addition to feeding stations where these "bully birds" might dominate feeders. Many squirrels will also avoid safflower seed and will not disturb feeders where safflower is offered, though chipmunks have been known to prefer the seed. Baffles and other steps to squirrel-proof a bird feeder are still wise precautions to prevent pests from taking advantage of the feeders.
How to Feed Safflower Seeds
Because many birds that prefer safflower are larger species that require adequate perching space, safflower seeds are best offered in large hopper, tube, or platform feeders. Any feeder that can accommodate whole sunflower seeds will also be suitable for offering safflower seeds. Tossing some of the seed on the ground near shrubby, sheltered areas can also be a good way to provide it to ground-feeding birds such as doves.
Because safflower seeds look and taste different than more familiar sunflower seeds, birds may take some time to get used to this new food offering. Mixing small amounts of safflower seed into a birdseed mix or with black oil sunflower seeds can tempt birds to try the new seed. The proportion of safflower to sunflower can gradually be changed as they accept the new food. At first, birders should be prepared for some spillage as birds sort through mixes to get to the most familiar seeds, but removing alternative foods can encourage birds to try something new.
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