What Birds Eat Thistle

Last Updated on April 19, 2023 by

Hey there! As an avian nutrition expert, I’m often asked about the dietary preferences of various bird species. One question that comes up frequently is whether or not birds eat thistle.

Well, the answer is yes – many species of birds do enjoy snacking on thistle seeds and plants. Thistles are a type of flowering plant with prickly leaves and beautiful purple or pink flowers. While they may look like weeds to us humans, to certain types of birds, they offer a tasty and nutritious treat. In this article, we’ll explore some of the different bird species that have been observed eating thistle, as well as the nutritional benefits these plants can provide for our feathered friends. So let’s get started!

The Nutritional Value Of Thistle

Thistle, also known as the prickly thorn plant, is a common sight in many bird habitats. This plant’s nutritional value lies in its seeds and flower buds, which are rich sources of energy and protein for birds. Thistle seeds have high fat content that can help sustain birds during migration or winter when food sources are scarce.

Furthermore, thistle seeds contain essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, and potassium that aid in bone growth and muscle development. These minerals play an important role in maintaining healthy metabolic functions like digestion and circulation. Birds require a balanced diet to maintain their health, and thistle provides an excellent source of nutrition.

In addition to its nutritional benefits, thistle attracts a variety of bird species. One such species is the American Goldfinch – small songbirds with vibrant yellow plumage. The American Goldfinch feeds primarily on the seeds of the thistle plant and relies heavily on this food source throughout the year. Let’s delve deeper into how these interesting little birds benefit from consuming this nutrient-rich plant!

American Goldfinch

The American Goldfinch is a widely distributed species, found in a wide array of habitats, from open woodlands to urban areas. They mainly feed on seeds, and especially enjoy thistle, which they extract from the plant using their specialized beaks. Goldfinches typically breed between April and June, and the female will build a cup-shaped nest, usually near the top of a tree. This species tends to flock in large numbers, and can be seen in meadows, grasslands, and even urban areas. They often feed in large flocks, and can be found in bird feeders in suburban areas. Goldfinches are an important species to monitor, as they are a good indicator of the health of the environment.


Have you ever wondered what birds eat thistle? One of the most common birds that feed on this plant is the American Goldfinch. These beautiful yellow birds are known for their love for thistle and can often be seen perched atop these plants, munching away.

The habitat of American Goldfinches plays a significant role in their diet as they prefer areas with abundant thistle growth. They can be found in fields, meadows, gardens, and other open spaces where there is ample access to thistle seeds. In addition to thistles, goldfinches also enjoy feasting on sunflower seeds, dandelion seeds, and various types of weeds.

If you want to attract American Goldfinches to your backyard or garden, consider planting some thistles or other seed-bearing plants such as coneflowers or black-eyed Susans. Providing sources of fresh water and shelter will also encourage them to stick around. With their bright colors and cheerful songs, watching these little finches feast on thistles is a sight worth seeing!


Now that we’ve discussed the American Goldfinch’s love for thistle, let’s dive deeper into their overall diet. As an avian nutrition expert, I can tell you that goldfinches have a primarily seed-based diet. In addition to thistle seeds, they also enjoy consuming various types of weed seeds such as ragweed and pigweed.

Interestingly, during breeding season, goldfinches will supplement their diet with insects such as aphids and caterpillars which provide much-needed protein for their young. They may also feed on berries and fruits when available.

It’s important to note that American Goldfinches are selective eaters and prefer fresh seeds over stale ones. If you want to attract them to your backyard feeder, make sure to clean it frequently and provide fresh seed daily. With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to observe these beautiful birds feeding on a diverse array of nutritious foods!


Now that we’ve discussed the American Goldfinch’s diet, let’s explore their breeding habits. Breeding season for goldfinches typically starts in late May or early June and lasts until August. During this time, males will put on a vibrant display of bright yellow feathers to attract potential mates.

Once paired up, the female will begin constructing her nest from materials such as grasses, plant fibers, and spider silk. The nest is typically built high up in a tree branch and can take up to 10 days to complete.

The female will lay between four to six pale blue eggs which both parents will take turns incubating for about two weeks. Once hatched, the young birds are fed primarily insect protein by both parents until they fledge at around 12-17 days old. It’s important during this time to provide essential food sources like thistle seeds rich in nutrients needed for healthy growth and development.

Common Redpoll

The Common Redpoll is a small bird found in the northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. It has a distinctive red cap on its head and a streaked brown body. These birds are known for their love of thistle seeds, which make up a large part of their diet during the winter months.

Thistle seeds provide an excellent source of nutrition for Common Redpolls because they are high in fat and protein. This helps them maintain their energy levels during colder weather when food sources may be scarce. They also eat other types of seeds such as birch and alder but have been observed to prefer thistle above all else.

While these birds primarily feed on seeds, they will occasionally consume insects during the breeding season to supplement their diet. However, this does not change their main preference for thistle seeds. Overall, it’s safe to say that if you want to attract Common Redpolls to your backyard feeder, offering them thistle seed is sure to do the trick!

  • Some interesting facts about Common Redpolls:

  • They can survive temperatures as low as -65°F (approx. -54°C)

  • Their flight pattern resembles that of butterflies

  • Males have brighter red caps than females

  • Ways to create a welcoming environment for Common Redpolls:

  • Planting native thistles in your garden or yard

  • Providing multiple feeding stations with various types of seed

  • Offering fresh water for drinking and bathing

  • The impact of climate change on Common Redpolls:

  • As temperatures rise in the Arctic regions where they breed, their habitat becomes less suitable

  • Changes in precipitation patterns affect the availability of food sources

  • Migration patterns may shift due to changing environmental conditions

As we’ve seen, Common Redpolls thrive on a diet rich in thistle seeds. However, another species commonly found at backyard feeders who shares this preference are Pine Siskins. These birds also have a fondness for thistle seeds and can often be seen with Common Redpolls at feeding stations. Let’s explore the dietary habits of Pine Siskins in more detail next.

Pine Siskin

Moving on to another bird species that feeds on thistle, let’s take a look at the Pine Siskin. These small finches can often be seen feeding on thistle seeds during the winter months when food sources are scarce. In fact, Pine Siskins have been known to consume large quantities of thistle seed in one sitting.

Thistles provide an excellent source of nutrition for Pine Siskins as they contain high levels of protein and fat. The tiny seeds found within the prickly flower heads are rich in oils and carbohydrates which help to sustain these birds during cold weather conditions. Additionally, thistle seeds are easily accessible due to their lightweight nature and small size, making them perfect for a quick meal.

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In summary, just like Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins also enjoy feasting on thistle seeds. Providing a plentiful supply of this nutritious ingredient is sure to attract both species to your backyard feeder. As we continue our exploration into avian nutrition, let’s now turn our attention towards the Purple Finch and its dietary habits.

Purple Finch

The Purple Finch, with its vibrant feathers and melodious chirps, is a common sight in North America. These birds are known for their love of thistles, making them an excellent topic to discuss in relation to the question at hand: what birds eat thistle.

When it comes to nutrition, the Purple Finch has specific dietary needs that include seeds, insects, and fruits. While they do occasionally indulge in other foods such as nectar or sap, their primary diet consists of various types of seeds. Thistle seed happens to be one of their favorites due to its high oil content and easy accessibility.

As avian experts can attest, feeding your local population of Purple Finches requires more than just tossing some thistle seeds into your backyard. It’s essential to provide a balanced diet that includes protein sources like mealworms or suet cakes alongside fresh water and shelter from predators.

  • Four interesting facts about Purple Finches:
  • The male’s bright red plumage is actually caused by pigments called carotenoids found in their diet.
  • They have been known to hybridize with Cassin’s finch resulting in unique color variations.
  • Their songs vary based on region and dialect similar to human language.
  • During migration season, they form large flocks sometimes consisting of over a hundred individuals.

Moving forward, let’s dive into another species closely related to the Purple Finch: the House Finch.

House Finch

House Finches are quite fond of thistle seeds, which tend to make up a large portion of their diet. They also enjoy a variety of other seeds, fruits and insects, depending on when and where they’re located. They often build nests in shrubs and trees, usually close to the ground, and typically line them with grass, hair, feathers and other soft items. All in all, House Finches are extremely adaptable birds who don’t require specific foods to survive.

Food Preferences

As an avian nutrition expert, I can tell you that House Finches have a particular taste for thistle seeds. These tiny black seeds are packed with nutrients and provide the perfect balance of protein and fat for these birds’ diets. When searching for food, House Finches will often seek out thistle plants in gardens or along roadsides.

While thistle is their preferred food source, House Finches also enjoy eating other types of small seeds such as sunflower or millet. They are opportunistic feeders and will take advantage of any available food sources. In fact, they have been known to eat insects during nesting season when they need extra protein to feed their young.

It’s important to note that while House Finches do love thistle, it should not be the only thing in their diet. Providing a mix of different seed types ensures that they receive all the necessary vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy. As always, fresh water should also be readily available for drinking and bathing purposes.

In conclusion, while House Finches have a strong preference for thistle seeds, providing them with a variety of seed options is crucial to maintaining their overall health and well-being. As an avian nutrition expert, my recommendation would be to offer a mixture of different small seeds in bird feeders or scattered on the ground near your yard’s foliage. This way you’ll attract more than just one type of bird species!

Nesting Habits

As an avian nutrition expert, it’s important to not only understand the feeding habits of birds but also their nesting habits. House Finches build nests using a variety of materials such as grasses, twigs, and feathers. They prefer to nest in covered areas that provide protection from predators and weather elements.

House Finch females are responsible for building the nests while males gather materials to bring back to the female. Once the nest is complete, the female will lay 2-6 eggs which she will incubate for about two weeks. Both parents take turns caring for the eggs and once they hatch, both work together to feed and care for the young chicks.

It’s important to note that during breeding season, House Finches can become territorial and aggressive towards other birds. It’s best practice to avoid disturbing their nesting area or interfering with their natural behaviors. As always, providing a safe environment with plenty of food and water is crucial to supporting these beautiful birds throughout all stages of life.

Eastern Towhee

Moving on from the House Finch, let’s explore another bird that enjoys feeding on thistle. The Eastern Towhee is a ground-dwelling bird found in the eastern United States. They have a varied diet consisting of insects, fruits, and seeds – including those of the thistle plant.

Thistles are an excellent source of nutrition for birds due to their high protein content. In particular, American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins frequent thistle feeders during winter months when other food sources may be scarce. However, it’s important to note that not all birds can digest these tiny black seeds.

Eastern Towhees have strong bills which allow them to crack open tough seed shells like those found on thistle plants. These birds will also consume thistle leaves and flowers as part of their overall diet. Providing a reliable source of fresh thistle seed can attract Eastern Towhees to your backyard or garden area year-round. Keep this in mind if you’re interested in observing these beautiful birds up close!

As we’ve seen with both the House Finch and Eastern Towhee, many species of birds enjoy eating thistle seeds as part of their regular diets. But what about dark-eyed juncos? This small sparrow-like bird is known for its distinctive appearance and playful behavior. Stay tuned for our next section where we’ll explore what makes these feathered friends unique and how they fit into the avian world around us.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Juncos are found in open woodlands and forest edges across the United States and Canada. They feed on a variety of seed, insects and berries, but they particularly enjoy eating thistle. They breed in early spring and often nest in coniferous forests. During breeding season, they may switch to a higher protein diet of insects to support the growth of their young. They usually build their nests low to the ground and often use a variety of materials such as twigs, grass, feathers, moss and bark. Overall, these birds are quite hardy and can adapt to a variety of conditions and food sources.


Have you ever seen a Dark-Eyed Junco nibbling on thistle seeds? These small birds are quite fond of the plant, as it provides them with essential nutrients and energy. But what kind of habitat do they prefer to find these tasty treats?

As an avian nutrition expert, I can tell you that Dark-Eyed Juncos thrive in a variety of habitats across North America. They can be found in forests, fields, mountains, and even suburban areas. However, they tend to prefer open spaces with plenty of low-growing vegetation where they can forage for food.

Thistles grow abundantly in meadows and pastures, making them an ideal source of food for juncos. The birds use their sharp bills to extract the seeds from the prickly flower heads. In addition to thistle seeds, juncos also eat other types of weed seeds and insects found in grassy habitats.

Overall, the Dark-Eyed Junco is a versatile bird that can adapt to many different environments as long as there is ample food available. So if you want to attract these feathered friends to your backyard, consider planting some thistles or creating a wildflower meadow for them to explore!

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Now that we’ve discussed the preferred habitat of Dark-Eyed Juncos, let’s talk about their diet. These small birds are opportunistic feeders and will eat a variety of foods depending on what is available in their environment. In addition to thistle seeds and insects found in grassy habitats, juncos also consume fruits, berries, and nuts.

During the winter months when food sources can be scarce, juncos rely heavily on seeds from trees and shrubs such as alder, birch, and hemlock. They may also visit backyard bird feeders for supplemental nutrition. Interestingly, studies have shown that male juncos tend to prefer high-fat foods while females prefer high-protein options.

It’s important to note that Dark-Eyed Juncos have a unique digestive system that allows them to extract maximum nutrients from their food. The gizzard, a muscular organ located in the stomach, grinds up tough plant material such as seeds and leaves before passing it through the rest of the digestive tract. This efficient process ensures that these little birds get all the nourishment they need to survive and thrive!

Breeding Habits

Now that we have a good understanding of the diet of Dark-Eyed Juncos, let’s shift our focus to their breeding habits. These birds typically breed from late April through early August and can produce up to three broods per year. The male juncos will find a nesting site in a shrub or tree, while the female builds the nest using grasses, twigs, moss, and other materials.

The female juncos are responsible for incubating the eggs which takes approximately 12-13 days. Once hatched, both parents take turns feeding and caring for the chicks until they fledge at around 11-14 days old. Interestingly, research has shown that older junco females tend to lay larger clutches of eggs than younger ones.

It’s also worth noting that Dark-Eyed Juncos exhibit monogamous behavior during each breeding season. However, some males may mate with multiple females within one season resulting in extra-pair copulations. This behavior is thought to increase genetic diversity within populations and contribute to adaptability in changing environments.

Tips For Attracting Thistle-Eating Birds To Your Yard

Many bird enthusiasts swear by the theory that attracting thistle-eating birds to your yard is as easy as putting out a simple feeder filled with thistle seed. However, this may not always be the case. While some species are known for their love of thistle, others may prefer different types of food or have specific feeding habits.

If you’re looking to attract goldfinches, siskins, and other finch-like birds that enjoy snacking on thistle seed, it’s important to provide them with a suitable environment. These birds tend to favor open spaces with plenty of sunlight and natural cover such as bushes or trees. Additionally, they often like perching on tall plants or feeders with thin perches so they can easily access the seeds.

Another factor to consider when trying to attract thistle-eating birds is timing. During breeding season from late winter through early summer, many finch species switch over to a primarily insect-based diet in order to provide enough protein for their offspring. By providing both insects and thistle seed during this time period, you’ll increase your chances of drawing these beautiful birds into your yard.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The History Of Thistle Consumption By Birds?

Thistle consumption by birds has a fascinating history. It is believed that some bird species, such as goldfinches and siskins, have been eating thistle seeds for centuries. These tiny yet nutritious seeds are packed with essential fatty acids and protein, making them an ideal food source for many birds. However, it wasn’t until recently that humans began to appreciate the benefits of thistle feeding stations and started offering thistle seed mixes specifically designed for wild birds. Today, these feeders are a common sight in gardens across North America and Europe, providing our feathered friends with a convenient and reliable source of nutrition year-round.

Can Thistle Seeds Be Harmful To Certain Bird Species?

Thistle seeds have been shown to be a valuable food source for many bird species due to their high fat and protein content. However, it is important to note that certain bird species may not tolerate thistle seeds as well as others. For example, some finches are known to develop crop impactions from consuming large amounts of thistle seeds. Additionally, birds with smaller beaks may struggle to open the tough outer layer of the seed. Therefore, while thistle can be a beneficial addition to a wild bird’s diet, it is important to monitor consumption and provide alternative foods if necessary.

How Does The Taste Of Thistle Seeds Differ Among Bird Species?

As an avian nutrition expert, it’s common knowledge that birds have varying taste preferences when it comes to their food choices. When it comes to thistle seeds, some bird species may find them more palatable than others due to the differences in their taste receptors. Factors such as genetics and past experiences can also influence a bird’s preference for certain foods. However, it’s important to note that while taste is a factor in food selection, other factors such as nutritional value and availability of resources also play a crucial role in determining what birds eat.

Are There Any Other Parts Of The Thistle Plant That Birds Consume?

As avian nutrition experts, we have observed that thistle plants offer a variety of food sources for birds. While the seeds are commonly consumed by various bird species due to their high nutritional value and oil content, other parts of the plant can also be utilized as food. For example, goldfinches are known to feed on thistle leaves during nesting season as a source of calcium for egg production. Additionally, some woodpecker species use thistle down in their nests as insulation. Therefore, it is important to consider all aspects of thistle plant consumption when studying its impact on bird populations.

Do Thistle-Eating Birds Have Any Unique Adaptations For Consuming Thistle Seeds?

The thistle plant is a staple in the diet of many birds, and those that consume it have developed unique adaptations for consuming its seeds. These birds possess specialized beaks that enable them to extract the tiny seeds from within the prickly exterior of the thistle head with ease. In fact, they have honed their skills so well that they can navigate through even the toughest thorny defenses without getting pricked by them. It’s truly remarkable how these feathered creatures have evolved over time to become masters at extracting sustenance from such an imposing source – a testament to nature’s resilience and adaptability.


As an avian nutrition expert, I can confidently say that thistle seeds are a popular food source for many bird species. While the history of thistle consumption by birds is not well-documented, we know that finches and sparrows have been observed eating these tiny seeds for centuries.

However, it’s important to note that some bird species may find thistle seeds difficult to digest or even harmful. For example, certain migratory birds like warblers do not consume thistle seeds as part of their regular diet. Additionally, while goldfinches are known to love thistle seeds, other finch species may prefer different types of seed instead.

One intriguing adaptation among thistle-eating birds is their specialized beaks which allow them to extract the tiny seeds from the prickly thistle plant without causing harm. This serves as a metaphor for how life often presents challenges but with careful adaptations and perseverance, we can overcome obstacles and thrive in our environment. So next time you see a bird munching on some thistle seeds, take a moment to appreciate their ingenuity and resilience!

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