Are you wondering what birds eat thistle seed? There are many types of birds that eat thistle and we’ll share the 10 most common examples of such birds here.
Thistle seed is delicious to many species of birds, including finches, sparrows, buntings, and more.
Most small birds eat thistle seed during the breeding season, especially in the spring and summer, when they need more nutrients to feed their young. While large birds like hawks and crows will eat thistle seed, it’s not their main diet and they don’t need it for breeding purposes.
What do different birds eat?
You might have an idea, but are you sure about it? If you’re interested in attracting certain types of birds to your garden, you should know that different birds prefer different food sources.
In general, there are two things to consider when trying to attract specific types of birds to your backyard: their habitat and their diet. Birds in the same family often share similar habitats, so if you want to attract one type of bird, it’s best to plant the trees and bushes that grow in its natural habitat.
Thistle seed is a favorite food of finches, sparrows, and starlings, but it can be enjoyed by many more types of birds. Before you purchase it to feed your favorite feathered friends, learn about what birds eat thistle seed and which do not.
What birds eat thistle – 10 Types
Here are the ten most common and popular types of birds that eat thistle seed!
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
The American Goldfinch is one of the most common birds found in North America. It eats a wide variety of foods including nectar, insects, and seeds. When Goldfinches visit bird feeders, they like sunflower seed, black oilseed sunflower seed, white proso millet seed, cracked corn for chickens and turkeys, safflower seed (unsalted), and thistle seed.
In nature, Goldfinches eat thistle seed that has fallen to the ground from its prickly leaves. These birds will also eat wildflowers such as California poppy and dandelion that provide great nutrition with their high levels of calcium and protein. They are omnivores so it is no surprise that these versatile little birds enjoy an assortment of different types of food.
House finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)
The house finch will consume just about any seed that is available but prefers thistle seed as its main food source. It eats seeds, including those from thistles, sunflowers, and soybeans.
However, it does not eat corn or wheat seeds as these types of seeds are too large for the small beak of the bird to break open and extract the contents. House finches can also feed on insects such as grasshoppers or beetles when they cannot find a suitable seed source to eat.
They also enjoy eating worms which live in dirt and mulch near the base of plants. These birds have even been known to occasionally sip nectar from flowers while visiting their feeding station, though this behavior is rarer than their other feeding behaviors.
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
The mourning dove, Zenaida macroura, has a gray head and neck with gray brown body feathers. They are about the size of a large sparrow. They forage for seeds and insects on the ground and in shrubs.
Doves eat weed seed, millet, sunflower seeds, mixed seeds like those from a wild birdseed mix, acorns and many more types of nuts. Mourning doves also eat insect larvae and will occasionally eat fruit as well.
The mourning dove is one of the most common birds you’ll see in the Midwest. They tend to live in agricultural areas and might eat insects, but they mostly eat thistle seed which they can find easily among crops. This is why they’re often used as an indicator of how healthy the crops are.
A Mourning Dove’s call sounds like a long mournful coo: coo-oo-oo. You’ll hear them at dusk calling out to each other and sometimes before dawn signaling a roosting spot. They usually mate for life unless their partner dies or leaves them.
Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus)
The pine siskin is a small sparrow-sized bird with short, fluffy feathers and an orange beak. They are primarily a seed eater but will occasionally feed on insects, fruit and nectar. The diet of this bird consists mainly of red and white pine seeds, which it commonly eats while perched on branches in treetops.
Other common foods that the Pine Siskin enjoys include thistle seed, juniper berries, sunflower seeds and watermelon seeds. These birds typically fly from tree to tree to find food and cover large distances each day.
Common redpoll (Acanthis flammea)
The common redpoll is a migratory bird found in arctic regions and temperate zones in Europe, Asia, and North America. They have a rich diet of seeds, insects, caterpillars, spiders, fruit and berries. Their food sources are vulnerable to climate change and other environmental changes.
Common redpolls feed on thistle seed by thrusting their long beaks into the spiky coverings of the seed heads and extracting seeds with their tongues. These birds also enjoy eating plant material like leaves, buds, and flowers when they’re available. Sometimes they will pick up stones or bark to grind up their food before swallowing it.
They even eat the wax that covers insect cocoons! Redpolls need insects for protein, which helps them lay eggs, build nests, and reproduce successfully. They often take more risks than other birds because of this and are at risk for getting caught in spider webs.
Common redpolls usually fly south to warmer climates in winter but can freeze if it gets too cold.
Indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea)
Many birds love to eat thistle seed, such as the indigo bunting. This bird prefers seeds of annual thistles like weed thistles and tumbleweeds. They often feed on these plants by feeding in the inflorescences of their flower heads. The individual flowers produce up to 100 seeds which are then harvested by this species.
The indigo bunting is a migratory species that nests mostly in North America during the summer months and then travels south for winter. It has been spotted in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. In winter they migrate to Central America or South America where they will lay eggs and breed until they return north again.
The indigo bunting feeds on insects while breeding but switches to mostly eating thistle seed when it’s migrating or traveling. When wintering, they prefer to eat prickly pear cactus fruit but will also take advantage of other fruits and nuts available in their habitat. If you’re trying to attract one of these beautiful creatures into your garden, plant black-eyed susans near the edge so that they can nest there if they choose.
Arctic redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni)
Also known as hoary redpoll, the arctic redpoll is a small finch that can be found in the tundra of Alaska and Canada. They are migratory, meaning they move to areas with food when it is available. Their diet consists mainly of seeds, nuts, berries, eggs and nestlings. It’s important to note that this bird prefers to eat a seed while it’s still fresh on the stem.
After they’ve eaten their fill, they will pluck off all the remaining thistle seed so it doesn’t spoil or attract other pests. Redpolls can consume more than 1/4th of their body weight in one day! If you have any extra seed, toss some out for these birds today. Who knows if they’ll stop by your feeder tomorrow.
Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
The song sparrow is a smaller bird, measuring just over five inches long. It is a solitary songbird that eats insects and feeds on the ground. Song sparrows eat a variety of seeds, as well as seeds from thistles. They also eat insects for protein when thistle seed is scarce.
The song sparrow, scientifically known as Melospiza melodia, is a small member of the sparrow family.
Like all sparrows, it has an olive-brown coloration with a reddish underside and a pointed bill. The song sparrow is one of the most widely distributed birds in North America, as it can be found across Canada and down to Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. They live mostly on ground level, where they forage for seeds and insects.
Song sparrows are commonly seen in open fields and around farms or grasslands. They are not migratory but instead may wander in response to food availability. Females build their nests on the ground and lay four eggs which hatch after thirteen days.
The young leave the nest after twenty days and fledge when they are two weeks old. Song sparrows eat thistle seed, which was consumed by 27% of females observed during the breeding season (most likely because it is high in fat).
California quail (Callipepla californica)
The California quail is a small, ground-dwelling bird native to the western United States. Quails forage for seeds, roots, leaves and insects on the ground, but can be seen eating high up in trees. They eat fruit and berries as well as seeds that fall from those trees.
Quails consume insects when they’re abundant in their habitat. One of their favorite meals is the thistle seed that’s found on many desert plants. Those plants are often not eaten by other animals because of the needle-like spines that cover them. Other foods eaten by quails include pecan, walnut, oak acorns and hackberry nuts.
Quails will also feed on snails, slugs and earthworms. They also enjoy drinking dew or rainwater off leaves. These birds were once popular game birds hunted by settlers during the 19th century and today remain one of the most sought after game species among hunters in Texas.
Dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis)
The dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) is a species of bird that belongs to the genus Junco. It has different coloration in male and female birds. The male has a blue head, brown back, and white underbelly with a prominent dark eye stripe.
The female’s head is gray with a whitish eyebrow, brown upper parts, white underparts, and a tail with thin stripes on each feather. Their eyes are either red or orange-brown. The difference between males and females is their call, which sounds like weeerrp for males and feeerp for females.
They eat seeds, berries, insects, eggs and chicks of other birds. They have eight toes but they can only walk on four because they have long toes covered by a thick layer of feathers to protect them from cold temperatures. Dark-eyed juncos breed in areas where willow trees grow in swampy areas near water sources such as lakes and ponds.