What Kind of Birds Eat Thistle

What Kind of Birds Eat Thistle? The Top 10 Most Common

Thistle seed is a staple food source for many birds. From quails to buntings and doves to sparrows, there are a plethora of different types of birds that you can attract using thistle. Even birds such as woodpeckers, thrushes, chickadees, and even some finches are known to feed on the thistle. If you want to attract a wide array of birds to your backyard, then thistle can get them snacking on your backyard bird feeders. But what kind of birds eat thistle?

Mourning doves, song sparrows, pine siskins, and American goldfinches are some of the most common species of birds that eat thistle. Thistle seeds provide these birds with the necessary food they need to survive. These species also are not bothered by the thistle’s thorns as they are careful not to injure themselves.

There are many other kinds of interesting bird species that will enjoy feeding on thistle plants and bird feeders. Take a look at the following list of the most popular birds that eat thistle.

Top 10 Birds That Eat Thistle

1. Mourning Doves

Mourning Dove

Also known as American mourning dove, then rain dove, and as the turtledove, it is a member of the dove family, Columbidae. The mourning dove was once known as the Carolina pigeon and Carolina turtledove. Mourning doves are one of the most common birds and spread throughout North America.

Fully grown, the mourning dove reaches a length of twenty-two to thirty-six centimeters and has a body mass of one hundred and twenty grams.

2. Song Sparrows

song sparrow resting

A song sparrow is a New World sparrow and is medium in size. It is one of the most abundant and adaptable species of all native sparrows in North America.

Author Note: Fully grown, the song sparrow will reach a length of twelve – seventeen centimeters and have a body mass of nineteen grams.

3. Pine Siskins

pine siskin on feeder

The pine siskin is a migratory bird with an extremely sporadic winter range and is a North American bird in the finch family.

The bills of the pine siskin are conical as with most finches but more slender as well as elongated when compared to co-occurring finches. When an adult, the pine siskin will have brown upperparts and pale on the underparts, with consistent streaking throughout.

They have short forked tails with yellow patches on their wings and on their tail.

When fully grown, pine siskins can reach a length of eleven to fourteen centimeters and have a body mass of twelve to eighteen grams.

4. American Goldfinches

American Goldfinch

A small North American bird in the finch family, the American goldfinch is a migratory bird. They are ranging from North Carolina to mid-Alberta during the breeding season and from the Northern United States to Mexico during the winter months.

The male is an olive color in the winter and changes to a vibrant yellow in the summer months, and the females are more of a brown-yellow shade, which brightens slightly in the summer months. To attract a mate during the breeding season, the male displays brightly colored plumage.

When fully grown, the American goldfinch will reach a length of eleven to fourteen centimeters and have a body mass of twenty grams.

5. California Quail

California Quail in a tree. Beautiful, unusual bird. Out of focus foliage in background.

The California quail is a small ground-dwelling bird and is also known as the California Valley quail or the valley quail. The California quail is a member of the new world quail family.

These birds have a curved plume or crest, made of six feathers that are black in males and brown in females, and flanks are brown with white streaks.

When fully grown, the California quail can weigh up to one hundred and sixty grams.

6. Common Redpolls

The common redpoll is a small bird and is a member of the finch family. These birds are Brownish grey in color with a red patch on its forehead. It has two pale stripes on the wings and a black bib. It is more streaked, browner, and smaller than the similar arctic redpoll.

When fully grown, the common redpoll will reach a length of between eleven and fourteen centimeters and have a body mass of about sixteen grams.

7. Hoary Redpolls

A Hoary Redpoll, canthis hornemanni, in tree

The hoary redpoll is a species in the finch family Fringillidae and is also known as the Arctic redpoll. These are non-migratory birds, and many remain far north. However, there are some that migrate short distances south in the winter months.

Similar in appearance to the common redpoll with the exception of the hoary (Arctic) redpoll being much paler. They have black bibs, two light-colored stripes on each wing, small beaks, and white rumps. Females are more streaked on their backsides, sides, and breasts.

When fully grown, the hoary (Arctic) repoll will reach a length of about twelve to fourteen centimeters and have a body mass of twelve to sixteen grams.

8. European Goldfinches

european goldfinch

Native to Western and Central Asia, North Africa, and Europe, the European goldfinch is a small passerine bird in the finch family. The European goldfinch is also known simply as the goldfinch. They have also been introduced to Uruguay, Australia, and New Zealand.

The backs and flanks are chestnut brown or buff, and the black wings have a broad yellow bar. The rump is white, and the tail is black. The breeding male has a black and white head and a red face. Although males and females are very similar, the females have a slightly smaller red area on their face.

Author Note: When fully grown, the European goldfinch will reach a length of twelve to thirteen centimeters and have a body mass of between fourteen to nineteen grams.

9. House Finches

Lesser goldfinch foraging in a field of flowers on a hot summer day

The house finch is a bird native to Western North America. It is a member of the finch family ‘fringillidae’. It has been introduced to Hawaii and the Eastern half of the continent.

Adults have reddish heads, shoulders, and neck, which are brown or dull brown across the back with some shading into grey on the wings. They also have a long, square-tipped tail and breast and belly feathers that are streaked. Male coloration is derived from the fruits and berries that it eats and varies in intensity with the seasons.

When fully grown, the house finch will reach a length of between twelve to fifteen centimeters and have a body mass of between sixteen to twenty-seven grams.

10. Indigo Buntings

indigo bunting singing

The indigo bunting is a small, migratory bird that is a member of the cardinal family. During the breeding season, Indigo buntings migrate from Canada to Florida, and then from Florida to Northern South America in the winter months.

Using the stars to navigate, they often migrate at night. It’s natural habitat is open woodland, farmland, and brush areas. The lazuli bunting is closely related to the indigo bunting and interbreeds when their ranges overlap.

The male is vibrant blue in the summer, displays sexual dimorphism in its coloration, and uses brightly colored plumage to attract a mate in the breeding season.

Author Note: The female is brown all-year-round, and during the winter months, the male turns brown.

The female indigo bunting is solely responsible for incubation and nest building.

When fully grown, the indigo bunting will reach a length of twelve to fifteen centimeters and have a body mass of around fourteen grams.

What is Thistle?

Thistle, also known as Nyjer, is a tiny seed from the African yellow daisy (Guizotia abyssinica). Although the plant is unrelated to the thistle plant, the Nyjer seed is casually referred to as thistle or thistle seed. The little black seed is a favorite amongst many types of birds because of its high oil and nutrient-dense content.

The nutritious Nyjer seed is a favorite amongst borders because of the sheer volume of birds it can attract and, due to its popularity as well as import prices and crops, the Nyjer seed is one of the more expensive bird seeds available.

Buying Nyjer is relatively easy and can be bought in various options, including bulk seeds, small quantities, and even mixed in seed mixes.

Thistle seed appeals to many different types of birds and can be an excellent addition to your garden feeder.

By investing in a high quality and well-designed bird feeder, you can minimize waste and maximize your thistle seed.

Bird Species that Eat Thistle

Goldfinch, yellow bird eating a thistle

All the birds that enjoy feeding on thistle will be seed-eating types of birds.

These birds are generally smaller varieties with sharp beaks designed explicitly for gripping and cracking small shells to get to the tiny seed and all of its rich nutrients. Most birds that love thistle are referred to as clinging birds.

This nickname is due to their acrobatic antics, where they tend to cling to a feeder’s sides instead of perching on the platform to eat the thistle.

There are even some types of thistle eating birds that will eat the seed upside down. All of these antics make for excellent bird watching, whether you enjoy sitting on your porch with a cup of tea or enjoying the sunset in the backyard with a beer.

Acrobatic Eating Habits

But there’s more to these birds’ acrobatics than mere bird-watching enjoyment. Birds that have these acrobatic skills help them feed in nature—being able to cling to sides or even feed while upside down helps them gain access to hard to get to parts of flowers (where all the juicy goodness lies).

Sometimes, being able to access the odd angles helps the birds to gain an advantage in the natural kingdom, allowing them access to certain parts of fruits and flowers that other creatures simply do not have. But not all birds who enjoy feeding on thistle are such agile creatures.

There are other types of birds that are called ground-feeding birds, and as the name implies, they feed off the ground. These types of birds can be seen foraging on the ground, typically amongst leaf litter.

Foraging in leaf litter is an excellent way to pick up all the seeds that have been left behind from the shedding flowers.

You can often find these types of birds, which are typically your larger seed feeding types of birds, foraging for fallen seeds beneath your garden thistle seed feeder.


We hope you found this article on what kind of birds eat thistle informative! Thistle provides certain birds with the necessary nutrients they need to survive.

If you have an especially large patch of thistle in your yard and get to observe birds eating it, let us know what you see! It would be interesting to hear about other kinds of birds that eat thistle.

Fly high friends!

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