Selecting the Best Finch Food for Your Backyard Feeders

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When feeding finches, there’s one main seed you have to know, and that’s thistle.

Thistle, otherwise known as Nyjer, is by far the most popular finch food. Don’t confuse this with the common purple flowering plant common along roadsides and in prairies across North America- thistle is the seed of the African yellow daisy.

Product Name
Best Nutritional Seeds
Valley Farms Wild Finch Mix
Best Budget
Lyric Finch Wild Bird Mix
Best Waste Free
Kaytee Waste Free Finch Blend
Image
Wild Finch Mix Wild Bird Food -Super Clean Seed for Outdoor Finch Feeder - 15 LBS
Lyric Finch Wild Bird Seed, Small Songbird Bird Finch Food, 20 lb. Bag
Kaytee Waste Free Finch Blend Stand Up Bag 4.5 Pounds
Customer Rating
Specific Uses for Product
Outdoor
Outdoor
Outdoor
Item Form
Seeds
Seeds
Seeds
Weight
15 Pounds
20.4 Pounds
4.5 Pounds
Size
20 x 14 x 2.5 inches
23.5 x 13.25 x 3.25 inches
4.5 x 8.5 x 10.5 inches
Best Nutritional Seeds
Product Name
Valley Farms Wild Finch Mix
Image
Wild Finch Mix Wild Bird Food -Super Clean Seed for Outdoor Finch Feeder - 15 LBS
Customer Rating
Specific Uses for Product
Outdoor
Item Form
Seeds
Weight
15 Pounds
Size
20 x 14 x 2.5 inches
Best Budget
Product Name
Lyric Finch Wild Bird Mix
Image
Lyric Finch Wild Bird Seed, Small Songbird Bird Finch Food, 20 lb. Bag
Customer Rating
Specific Uses for Product
Outdoor
Item Form
Seeds
Weight
20.4 Pounds
Size
23.5 x 13.25 x 3.25 inches
Best Waste Free
Product Name
Kaytee Waste Free Finch Blend
Image
Kaytee Waste Free Finch Blend Stand Up Bag 4.5 Pounds
Customer Rating
Specific Uses for Product
Outdoor
Item Form
Seeds
Weight
4.5 Pounds
Size
4.5 x 8.5 x 10.5 inches

Last update on 2023-01-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

These tiny seeds are a favorite of backyard finches across North America, including goldfinches and common finches like purple and house finches. It is sold alone or as the basis of most finch food mixes.

While they’re small, thistle seeds are high in oil content, making them a high-energy food that can power finches all through the year, including during the winter months.

Bird watchers can also purchase pre-mixed seed that is often branded as a “finch mix.”

While the bags may be a seed mix, that mix will still be about 50 percent thistle or more. Other seeds often included are sunflower chips, small peanut chunks, canary seeds, and red, golden, or white proso millet.

Should I buy finch mix or just thistle seed?

You can buy thistle as a standalone product, and for many people, that’s probably the best choice. If you know that the finches are looking for one specific seed, you might as well focus on that seed and reduce seed waste by not buying other less popular seeds.

Thistle seed generally isn’t preferred by squirrels or many larger birds, but finches love it. Other birds that may eat it include chickadees and juncos, but thistle is favored by birds such as goldfinches, house and purple finches, pine siskins, and redpolls.

When it comes to buying standalone thistle seed, most products are going to be pretty much the same thing. Here are a couple of good options to consider:

Lyric Nyjer seed

Lyric Nyjer Seed Wild Bird Seed Finch Food Bird Seed, 10 lb. Bag
  • Finch favorite
  • Attracts all types of finches, including American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, House Finches and Pine Siskins
  • Carefully selected and cleaned

Last update on 2023-01-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Lyric Nyjer seed, sold in 10-pound bags, is cleaned and selected for backyard finches of all kinds.

Wagner’s Nyjer seed

Wagner's 62051 Nyjer Seed Wild Bird Food, 5-Pound Bag
  • The favorite seed of Finches including the desirable Goldfinch
  • Contains 150,000 seeds per pound creating many visits to the feeder
  • An extra clean seed that provides high energy content for backyard songbirds

Last update on 2023-01-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Sold in five, 10, and 20-pound bags, you can buy in bulk and save some money feeding the hungry finches in your backyard.

Kaytee Nyjer seed

Sale
Kaytee Nyjer Seed 20-Lb
  • Nyjer's high oil content and tiny size make it a healthy choice for small backyard birds
  • Bite-size and lots of energy make Nyjer a finch favorite
  • Kaytee foods are developed with premium ingredients and unique formulas to keep pets healthy and energetic

Last update on 2023-01-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

A household name in bird feeding, Kaytee sells this product in an eight-pound or 20-pound bag.

What are the ingredients of finch mixes?

In addition to thistle seed, finch mixes may also include canary seed, millet, sunflower chips, peanut hearts, and milo, although certain mixes could include other ingredients as well.

Millet Seed

Millet seed is the small, round seed of a grassy grain cultivated for both bird and human consumption.

There are various types of millet, including red, yellow, and white proso millet. In addition to finches, millet is also popular amongst ground birds like doves and turkeys and several sparrow species.

If you find that millet is being eaten up by cowbirds, starlings, and house sparrows, you may want to consider switching from a finch mix to just thistle seed.

There’s nothing wrong with feeding these types of birds if that’s what you want, but many bird watchers prefer not to.

Sunflower Chips and Peanut Hearts

Finches enjoy sunflowers and peanuts, two more foods often associated with human consumption. However, what the birds are served and what humans eat aren’t the same.

The peanuts and sunflower seeds that humans eat are prepared differently than those for birds. Seeds meant for human consumption often have a high concentration of salt and artificial flavoring that isn’t meant for birds.

Buy bird-specific sunflower seeds or unsalted peanuts if you’re feeding the birds with them.

Finches can shell sunflower seeds on their own, but finch mixes often include these seeds with the shells already removed.

Canary Seed

Canary seed, also known as alpiste, may be named after a bird, but it’s not just for birds. It’s often grown as a cereal grain. It is high in protein, so some humans have begun to consume canary seed as well.

Finches are not the only birds that will eat canary seed. It can also attract birds like cowbirds and house sparrows, two species that aren’t always popular with backyard birdwatchers.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that canary seed “doesn’t offer much over more widespread seed,” so if you’re mixing your own seed, you could potentially skip this one.

However, backyard bird feeding is often about experimenting and finding what works for you. What works for one person may not work as well for another.

Milo

One ingredient to generally avoid is milo. Some companies will include milo as a component of various bird seeds, but birds don’t really enjoy it.

Ground birds like doves and quails might take to it, but songbirds will usually pass on it in favor of more desirable seeds. There are plenty of seed mixes that don’t include milo, so be sure to read the ingredients list before purchasing seeds to prevent waste.

If you find that birds are turning down one specific seed in your finch mix, adjust what food you’re putting out to avoid wasting money and seed.

You can always create your own mix of thistle and any other ingredients that birds prove to enjoy.

Best Finch Food – Seed Mixes

Valley Farms Wild Finch Mix

Wild Finch Mix Wild Bird Food -Super Clean Seed for Outdoor Finch Feeder - 15 LBS
  • 🐤 Seeds that Wild Finches Love; including Golden Finch Millet, Canary seed & Nyjer, All Favorites of Finches
  • 🏡 For use with Wild Finch Feeders ONLY, designed with smaller feeding holes to attract the vibrant Finch
  • ❤️ Look for the brightly colored male to stand guard while the female Finch eats!

Last update on 2023-01-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This mix includes canary seed and sunflower chips with thistle. It also includes golden millet. It is sold in bags of four or 15 pounds.

As mentioned before, canary and millet might be popular amongst your backyard birds or they may not. Consider it a backyard experiment and find out what works best in your yard. You may find that millet and canary seed get eaten right up.

If they don’t you can dump the leftover seeds on the ground and birds like doves will likely eat them up, in addition to chipmunks or squirrels. That may not sound ideal, but it’s better than throwing it in the garbage.

Lyric Finch Wild Bird Mix

Lyric Finch Wild Bird Seed, Small Songbird Bird Finch Food, 20 lb. Bag
  • Premium blend attracts more finches and other small songbirds to your feeders
  • All natural food with no fillers
  • Five nutritional ingredients is a special mix of small seeds small songbirds love

Last update on 2023-01-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This mix is sold in five-pound or 20-pound bags and includes canola seed, golden millet, canary seed, and sunflower chips in addition to Nyjer seed.

Canola seed is a less common inclusion in bird seeds. You may have heard of canola oil, which is produced from canola seeds. If you find that birds in your backyard aren’t eating it, go ahead and switch to another seed that skips canola.

Kaytee Ultra Wild Finch Blend

Kaytee Ultra Wild Finch Blend, 7-Pound Bag
  • Attracts goldfinches, purple finches, house finches, redpolls, pine siskins and indigo buntings
  • Blend of four select ingredients designed to visually attract more finches than just standard seed blend.
  • Preferred 3-to-1 over nyjer

Last update on 2023-01-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Kaytee claims that its wild finch blend is preferred 3-to-1 over just thistle seed. It includes red millet, sunflower chips, and peanut hearts. This mixes ditches canary seeds but still includes millet.

Kaytee Waste Free Finch Blend

Kaytee Waste Free Finch Blend Stand Up Bag 4.5 Pounds
  • No messy leftovers under feeders, in yards and flowerbeds and on patios
  • No sprouts! Sunflower seeds can't germinate without hulls and, therefore, can't grow
  • 100% edible for easy feeding and no waste

Last update on 2023-01-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If the birds in your backyard don’t tend to like red millet, Kaytee makes a blend of finch seed that’s just sunflower chips and thistle seed. It’s sold in 4.5 or eight-pound bags.

For people who still want to buy a blend but don’t want to include too many other bird food ingredients, this might be a great choice.

What Kind of Feeder Do I Need for Finches?

Finches don’t absolutely need their own feeder, but it sure can help. As some of the smaller backyard songbirds, they’re easily outcompeted at standard feeders by squirrels and larger birds.

They also eat a seed, thistle, that’s not commonly enjoyed by many other frequent bird feeder visitors. Giving them their own feeder makes sense if you can.

There are a couple of different types of finch feeders. Many finch feeders, such as this Jacobi Jayne feeder or sock feeders, have seed ports just big enough for thistle seed to fit through.

However, other ingredients in a finch mix, such as sunflower chips or peanut hearts, won’t fit through those holes. This can lead to clogged ports and force birds to seek food elsewhere.

There are suitable feeders for feeding larger seeds. Consider what kind of seed you’ll be using before purchasing a feeder.

For more information on finch feeders, click here.

What to Feed Finches in the Winter

Whatever you feed to finches during the summer months will likely work during the winter months.

You can continue to feed finches thistle or finch seed blends during the winter months. Thistle is high in oil content, which provides great energy to birds as they power through cold months as far north as southern Canada or northern states with harsh winters.

Additionally, winter is a good time to start feeding finches if you’re not already. As many other backyard songbirds begin to head south, finches typically stay, depending on where you live.

During this period of less bird activity, finches can bring some action to your bird watching, and the birds will thank you for it.

In addition to seeds found at bird feeders, finches find much of their food foraging in the wild. As these sources, such as bugs, begin to lessen in cold months, they may become more common visitors to feeders as the days shorten and the temperatures drop.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best food to attract goldfinches?

The answer, hands down, is thistle/Nyjer. This makes up a large component of all seed mixes and is sold alone as a favorite food of finches, including goldfinches, purple finches, and house finches.

What should you not feed finches?

Finches, like other birds, should not be fed many human foods or table scraps.

While it may seem like you’re avoiding being wasteful by throwing out leftover food for the birds, many human foods, including those high in carbohydrates such as bread, are not good for them.

Some foods like chocolate can even be toxic to birds. Before feeding any human food to your backyard birds, do some research about whether birds can eat it.

While that’s advice from a health perspective, there are also several bird seeds that wouldn’t be bad for finches, but just won’t do much to attract them to your feeders.

Many common bird foods like safflower seeds aren’t popular amongst finches, and the feeders you put them in will often be controlled by larger songbirds. For this reason, many people have dedicated finch feeders filled with thistle or finch mixes specifically for the finches.

There are some ingredients included in bird seed, such as milo, that birds like finches aren’t fans of. It’s not bad for them, but it may end up wasted when birds ignore it for tastier options.

If you’re buying pre-mixed bird seed, look for one without milo, even though it won’t harm birds.

Why are finches not eating my Nyjer seed?

If finches aren’t coming to your finch feeder and eating your thistle seed, the underlying reasons may vary.

If you’ve just put out the feeder, the birds just may not have found it. If you haven’t seen finches in recent months, it’s also possible that you don’t have finches nearby, or if you do, they’ve found other food sources.

As colder months roll around and food gets more scarce, it could begin to attract more birds, so give birds some time to come around.

Another more easy-to-fix reason could be that the food has spoiled. After periods of high moisture or heat, even dry birdseed can begin to go bad.

Check to see if your bird seed has gotten moldy, or if on the other end of the spectrum, it’s gotten dry. Thistle is a high-oil food that loses a lot of its value to birds as it begins to dry out.

If you’re wasting seed, try filling your feeders half-full until you begin to attract birds.

What do finches eat in the winter?

Finches are some of the most common backyard birds throughout the winter months. Purple finches, house finches, pine siskins, and goldfinches may stay in even the coldest American climates throughout the year.

You can continue to feed thistle or finch mixes to finches throughout the winter months.

Do finches need a special feeder?

It’s wise to give finches their own feeder. Finches are some of the smallest backyard songbirds, so they can easily be boxed out of regular feeders by larger songbirds like jays or cardinals.

They also don’t eat a lot of the same seeds as those birds. Most backyard birds don’t take to thistle seed as finches do, so giving them their own feeder with their own food preferences makes a lot of sense.

Do finches visit bird baths?

Like other birds, finches will visit backyard water sources such as bird baths.

In the summer, make sure the water doesn’t get too warm and change it fairly regularly to prevent the buildup of bacteria and the spread of disease.

In the winter, a heated bird bath will prevent water from freezing, but that’s also an added cost for you. You can also just watch the water closely to make sure it doesn’t freeze and change it out to make sure it doesn’t get too cold.

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Jacob Swanson

Jacob Swanson is a writer and wildlife photographer born and raised in Wisconsin and currently based in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Since graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his work has appeared in over a dozen different web and print outlets. In his free time, he’s on a personal quest to visit every U.S. national park and see as many wildlife species as possible. His favorite birds are whooping and sandhill cranes.