We gave our daughter and son-in-law a birdfeeder for their wedding anniversary. They were delighted. We filled it with black oil sunflower seeds and hung it on their backyard fence. It didn’t take long for the local House Finches to discover the new food source. My daughter enjoyed watching the pretty red birds gather around the feeder, politely taking turns at the narrow tray.
Then, a few weeks later, a huge flock of red-winged blackbirds realized dinner was available in my daughter’s backyard. They seemed to know every time she filled the feeder. As they jostled for position, they displaced the more subdued finches. Within minutes, the feeder was empty. Clearly, something would have to be done.Meanwhile, at my own house, I was dealing with squirrels. Of course, that’s nothing new. Anyone who feeds birds will find them selves feeding squirrels at some point. I’d actually solved the problem with my pole-mounted feeders, by inserting a cone-shaped baffle between the squirrel and the seed. In the six years I’ve been using them, no agile rodent has gotten past one.
However, my pole feeders are quite far from our house, on the other side of our wide driveway. I wanted to watch the birds right outside my kitchen window. An assortment of “squirrel-proof” feeders (hah!), pepper sprays, and dome-shaped protectors had done nothing to deter the persistent tree-rats.
I was pondering both my and my daughter’s dilemmas when a bird-feeding friend suggested safflower seeds. Recently, these seeds have gained some notoriety as being unattractive to squirrels and less-popular birds such as blackbirds, while still attracting the songbirds most people want at their feeders.
The Wild Birds Unlimited website isn’t exactly an objective source, but they do offer some useful information. I checked to see what they had to say about safflower seeds:
Safflower is a small, white seed that is high in protein and fat. Many favorite backyard birds—including jays, cardinals, chickadees, House Finches, doves, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, titmice and White-breasted Nuthatches—savor safflower. Blackbirds, grackles and squirrels typically do not.
Well, that certainly sounded promising. I investigated further. Birdwatching.com says, “The great thing about safflower seeds is that squirrels don’t like them. Neither do grackles, blue jays, or starlings.”
Additional sources repeated the mantra. Squirrels do not like safflower seeds. Neither do some other birds. I decided to give them a try. If they worked for me, I would recommend them to my daughter.
Several sites recommended making the switch gradually. As directed, I tried mixing the safflower seed in with the black oil sunflower seeds. The birds looked at me indignantly. They then proceeded to fish out and eat only the sunflower seeds, discarding the safflower on the ground (where it promptly sprouted). Clearly, if I was going to do this, it would have to be all or nothing. I took down most of my feeders, and filled the rest with plain safflower seed.
At first the birds stayed away. Then a flock of Evening Grosbeaks arrived and started feasting on the safflower. This was a new species for my yard. I didn’t know if my seed switch had anything to do with their arrival (I rather doubt it, actually), but I was thrilled to have them.
The House Finches finally condescended to eat my safflower seeds, but the Black-headed Grosbeaks, nuthatches and chickadees that I enjoyed so much would have nothing to do with my offerings. I wavered in my resolve.
The next morning, I woke to find the freshly-filled dish of safflower seeds empty, with only a few shells remaining to indicate anything had ever been there. Could I have that many grosbeaks? I refilled the bowl and retreated to the kitchen window to watch.
Sure enough. No sooner had I disappeared indoors when a fox squirrel crept out from behind the bush where he’d been hiding. Looking cautiously around, he sniffed the air, and then scampered over the bowl and began gobbling up safflower seeds as fast as he could shove them into his expandable cheeks.
I guess my squirrels hadn’t read the ads.
I finally gave up. My daughter has had some success with safflower, but I’m back to offering mainly sunflower seeds*. The only feeders outside my kitchen window are for hummingbirds. At least the squirrels leave those alone (once I got the kind without the chewable plastic “flowers”). And from October through April, I have to use my binoculars to see the birds across the driveway.
Birdseed that squirrels don’t like? I knew it was too good to be true!
* along with millet, nyjer, suet, peanuts… and dog kibble! But that’s a topic for another day.