Trying Nutra-Saff (Golden Safflower) Again

Last Updated on March 30, 2021 by Nancie

Nutrasaff or "Golden Safflower"
Nutrasaff or “Golden Safflower”

Years ago I saw a bag of Nutra-Saff (sometimes called “Golden Safflower”) on a store shelf and gave this version of safflower a try. None of the birds in my yard seemed impressed. Eventually it got eaten but not enthusiastically, so I didn’t buy more of it. But recently, after writing a post on How to Choose Birdseed For Backyard Birds, I started thinking about it and decided to give Nutra-Saff another try.

What is Nutra-Saff Anyway?

Nutra-Saff is a seed bred by scientists at STI (Safflower Technologies International) and Montana State University. The result is a much thinner hulled seed that is higher in protein, oil and fat and easier for birds to get into and to digest. I must admit that the whole scientist-created thing is a little off-putting to me, (it makes me think of people junk food), but it is supposed to be non-GMO and free of chemicals and more nutritious than regular safflower.

Nutra-Saff was introduced over ten years ago with a lot of fanfare, but if you google it, you will see a lot of company and online store blurbs and not much in the way of regular people describing how they are actually offering it in their own yards. Maybe it’s just the way I’m searching.

It does seem to pop up as an ingredient in some custom seed mixes you can purchase though. So if you’ve used a seed mix, you may have used it in your yard without maybe even realizing it. If you want to purchase it separately, I suspect that you may need to go to a dedicated bird store like I did to find it. (Note: I do see that Amazon sells Lyric Golden Safflower if you can’t find a local source.)

Common Grackle
Common Grackle

Why Try Nutra-Saff Again?

The reason I thought about trying this seed again is that most birds that visit my feeders, as well as the squirrels and groundhogs, have learned over the years to eat safflower. So where I used to be able to switch some of the feeders from sunflower to safflower when the annoying late winter and early spring flocks of “blackbirds” (Common Grackles, European Starlings, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Brown-Headed Cowbirds) came through, that doesn’t work anymore.

1) Will Nuisance Birds Avoid Nutra-Saff?

I was thinking about how these flocks learned to eat safflower over time and wondered if they would have to learn to eat Nutra-Saff. In other words, would these flock birds be at least initially turned off by this version of safflower and leave the feeders alone?

Northern Cardinal Eating Regular Safflower Seed
Northern Cardinal Eating Regular Safflower Seed

And at the same time, would the regular birds be willing to give Nutra-Saff a try as it is basically a different version of the regular safflower that they like and eat year round? This could solve a problem for me.

If the flock birds turned up their beaks at it, but the Northern Cardinals liked it, I could put the Nutra-Saff in at least some of the feeders and not have the cardinals always being blocked from feeders by more dominant visiting birds.

2020 Update Note: I’m experimenting with this again in 2020 in some feeders as one part of my strategy to have Fewer Mixed Blackbird Flocks at My Feeders.

Nutra-Saff and Regular Safflower
Nutra-Saff (L) vs Regular Safflower (R)

2) Will Non-Safflower Eaters Try Nutra-Saff?

The second thing I was thinking about is how some birds don’t seem to go for safflower at least partially because their beaks are not designed to break open such a hard-shelled seed. Would smaller birds, like American Goldfinches be able to eat the much thinner hulled Nutra-Saff? Would they be willing to try it and if they did, would they like it?

3) How Do Nutra-Saff and Safflower Costs Compare?

Cost can be a consideration in feeding birds too. At my local bird store, Nutra-Saff is a few dollars more than regular safflower, but still quite a bit less expensive than the same weight of sunflower hearts. If all the same birds like both Nutra-Saff and safflower, then it would probably be a little cheaper to keep using the regular safflower.

But if some of the flock birds don’t like it, then I’d be going through less seed, so spending a few dollars more might actually create a net savings. And if I could offer Nutra-Saff in some feeders that currently have sunflower hearts and the birds liked it just as much, then I would probably save money.

L-R: Sunflower Hearts, Nutra-Saff, Safflower
L-R: Sunflower Hearts, Nutra-Saff, Safflower

Note on Price Comparisons: It’s a little tricky to compare the relative cost of seeds with shells/hulls to seeds without. With the first, you are paying for shell or hull that will be discarded. So the higher package price of the second is actually not quite such a big difference as you might first think. Sunflower chips/hearts have no shell or hull at all. Regular safflower has a hard thick white shell. Nutra-Saff eliminates the white shell but there is still a thin brownish (“golden”) hull that the birds don’t eat.

Day One of Trying Nutra-Saff

I first tried putting the Nutra-Saff in a Squirrel Buster Plus tube feeder in the front yard that I had been filling with sunflower hearts. The Common Grackles were dominating it this day, it so I thought it would be a good one to try swapping out first.

Grackle Reaction to Nutra-Saff

The results were mixed. The grackles were not happy with this seed and after poking around on the feeder for awhile trying to figure out where the sunflower seed went, they left. They come back every now and then to see if anything has changed but mostly are staying away. So that part was good.

Tufted Titmouse Working on a Nutra-Saff Seed
Tufted Titmouse Working on a Nutra-Saff Seed

Some Birds Like Nutra-Saff, Some Don’t

At first the House Finches wouldn’t eat the Nutra-Saff either. One or two eventually gave it a try and then settled in to eat, but not all of them were convinced, so the feeder was fairly lonely.

The Tufted Titmouses and White-Breasted Nuthatches zipped over to the feeder, immediately grabbed a Nutra-Saff seed and went off to eat them. They must have liked what they got because they all came back several times. I’m fairly sure that a Dark-Eyed Junco ate some of this seed on the ground too.

House Finches and an American Goldfinch Consider the Nutra-Saff
House Finches and an American Goldfinch Consider the Nutra-Saff

The one American Goldfinch I saw on the feeder peeked into the port, didn’t like what he saw and left. He must have told his buddies because I haven’t seen one on this feeder since. One European Starling came by and ate some of the seed. Starlings seem to eat almost any seed they can get their beak through. They eat regular safflower in my yard, so that wasn’t surprising.

Northern Cardinal Eating Nutra-Saff
Northern Cardinal Eating Nutra-Saff

Northern Cardinals & Other Birds Eat It

I don’t usually get Northern Cardinals on the Squirrel Buster Plus feeders, but I did put a little Nutra-Saff in the bottom catch tray area of the big metal mesh feeder in the front yard that they like. A male and female cardinal began snacking on it right away.

In late afternoon, I tried filling the hanging platform feeder in the middle of the backyard with Nutra-Saff to see if I could entice some cardinals. I saw several eating it off and on, as well as several Mourning Doves. A Red-Winged Blackbird was willing to eat it as well.

Most of the usual safflower eating birds concentrated on the regular safflower in the other pole-mounted platform feeder further back in the yard, but they usually prefer that feeder anyway.

Day Two of Trying Nutra-Saff

In the morning, the Squirrel Buster Feeder out front didn’t seem to be getting any customers. But it was a quiet day in the yard (which could mean there was a Cooper’s Hawk lurking somewhere or maybe it was just because the trees are leafing out so there are more bugs to eat.) But a Red-Winged Blackbird and a Northern Cardinal both seemed quite happy to eat Nutra-Saff in the hanging tray feeder in the back yard.

No Immediate Nutra-Saff Preference

STI claims that birds prefer Nutra-Saff two to one over regular safflower. It’s only been a couple days, but so far in my yard, that hasn’t been the case. Initial reaction, even with the cardinals, seems to be a preference for the regular safflower or at best, for the ones willing to eat it, about the same.

I was seeing cardinals getting on the little hopper feeder to eat the regular safflower instead of getting into the Nutra-Saff filled platform feeder right next to it. It is usually the other way around with these feeders. But it can take birds a little time to get used to a new-to-them seed so that may not mean a lot.

2020 Update Note: When trying it again in the spring of 2020, I still see similar bird species willing to eat Nutra-Saff. I still don’t see a preference.

House Finch and Northern Cardinal on the Hanging Platform Feeder
House Finch and Northern Cardinal on the Hanging Platform Feeder

Same Birds Eating Nutra-Saff

By late in the day, I was seeing the same birds willing to eat Nutra-Saff: Northern Cardinals, Red-Winged Blackbirds, House Finches, Mourning Doves, Tufted Titmouses, White-Breasted Nuthatches and Carolina Chickadees. Not every bird of these species is eating it at this point. Some individual birds will and some won’t. But I’ve found over the years that usually when one bird in the group figures out a food source, other birds in their group usually follow within a few days.

The grackles were very scarce in the yard this day. They checked the feeders a few times but left without eating. So far, I still haven’t seen any American Goldfinches try it.

Will Squirrels Eat Nutra-Saff?

Will Squirrels eat Nutra-Saff? Yep. The squirrels in my yard have been enthusiastically eating regular safflower for years. They are apparently just as happy with the Nutra-Saff version, eating what they found under these feeders. If your squirrels don’t eat safflower then my guess is that they probably won’t eat this either. (But given enough time, a hungry squirrel will learn to eat either one.) If your squirrels already eat regular safflower, they’ll probably eat this too.

Introducing Birds to a New Food

Sometimes when you read articles about switching birds to a new food, they recommend mixing the new in with the old so that birds can gradually get used to it. I don’t think that is bad advice. It would keep birds from coming to the feeder and finding a weird-to-them food and immediately leaving. The idea is that you keep them at the feeder and maybe they will accidentally or purposefully try the new food and become a convert.

For my test, I chose not to do it that way. I had grackles on the Squirrel Buster Plus feeder I wanted to get off and I wanted to see their reaction to the new food. I didn’t want them to stay on the feeder and pick out the sunflower hearts and toss the Nutra-Saff. It is harder to figure out what they are eating and not eating if the seed is mixed.

On the hanging platform feeder, I wanted to see if I could create a space where the cardinals could eat without competition. If I mixed the seed, then again, I’d have birds picking out the seeds they wanted.

So to figure things out, I needed to make the switch cold turkey if you will pardon the almost pun. If you are instead wanting to switch birds in your yard over to something new a little more gently, you might want to try mixing the seeds and gradually increasing the new until there is no more of the old.

Day Three of Trying Nutra-Saff

Things were about the same on the third day. The Squirrel Buster Plus in the front yard continued to get very little activity (grackles or anyone) but the hanging feeder in the back yard got the same birds eating, although mostly cardinals, but the cardinals are spending long periods eating it.

Northern Cardinal Considers Seeds on the Ground
Northern Cardinal Considers Seeds on the Ground

A Week Later

After another week, I’d say the verdict is still mixed. I let the remaining Nutra-Saff in the Squirrel Buster Plus feeder very gradually run out. As there was no huge surge in Nutra-Saff popularity on that feeder, I went back to filling it with regular safflower. The Nutra-Saff served its purpose on that feeder though, as the grackles have moved on.

I used the rest of the original five pound bag of Nutra-Saff to keep the hanging platform feeder filled and bought another bag to keep it going. The cardinals seem to like Nutra-Saff and seem glad to eat it in this feeder. None of the other species are showing any lasting interest in it though. They seem to prefer regular safflower or sunflower hearts over it so far.

So the cardinals have had this feeder mostly to themselves. But that’s okay. Finally the cardinals have a feeder that they are not being edged out of by more dominant birds.

Note: In 2020, I am experimenting with Nutra-Saff again as part of my effort to have Fewer Mixed Blackbird Flocks at My Feeders.


PS: Need a seed feeder grackles and starlings can’t get into? Check out my reviews of the Nuttery Globe Feeder and Woodlink’s Tube Cage Feeder.

For More About Birdseed, See: Storing Birdseed Three Ways and Choosing Seed For Backyard Birds and How To Buy Birdseed: FAQs.

Want to read more posts about birds? When you subscribe below, you’ll get an email whenever a new post goes up (and ONLY then. Promise!)

Please Note: My blog includes some Amazon affiliate links. The small fees they provide help cover my site costs.

15 thoughts on “Trying Nutra-Saff (Golden Safflower) Again

  1. Hi, I recently switched my squirrel-buster to “nutri saff” to stop the grackle and squirrel mania that has driven away everyone else. The other switch I made was putting Blue Seal “wild finch mix” (which has small sunflower chips, milo, nyjer, flaxseed, canary seed) into the finch feeder. This feeder (previously with nyjer seed only) has never been popular, but the chickadees now seem to enjoy it, as well as the odd goldfinch pair. The squirrel buster, which had previously been black oil sunflower only, or a mix, is now practically deserted. The grackle and squirrels have cottoned on to it being unappealing – and nothing on the ground is attracting anyone but sparrows. Someone is eating it as the level goes down, slowly! – I see cardinals (not enthusiastic but they visit), bluejay (also not frequent as before), chickadees, nuthatches, and the goldfinches. I hope to go back to black oil or a sunflower/safflower mix when the grackle have left the area. I don’t know what’s worse, crazy grackle mania or an abandoned feeder area!

    1. Hi Susan, I completely understand your dilemma. It’s really frustrating.

      I do think Nutra-Saff (and for some birds regular safflower) seems to be an acquired taste. I’ve only used it for a month or two at a time when I’m trying to get the annoying flocks to move on. I’ve found that I usually have to use it for at least a few weeks because the grackles, etc. will circle back every couple days to see if the seed has been changed back. Once they stop, I switch back. I’ll see a grackle or a starling every now and then over the summer and fall but mostly they seem to be eating elsewhere.

      Oh! For your smaller birds, you might consider a cage type feeder for continuing to offer sunflower. I like the Woodlink cage feeders for this. I’ve got a review here on my blog.

      Good luck!

  2. I started using nutrasaff seeds this summer. It completely discouraged problem birds and is enjoyed by the rest. Problem solved!

  3. I’ve been providing Nutrasaff for three years. The birds eat it voraciously year round and the squirrels stay away. What birds? Goldfinches, house finches, titmice, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, red bellied woodpeckers, cardinals, juncos, a variety of sparrows and today, one lone catbird.

    1. Hi Kimberley,
      Interesting. Did it take your local birds some time to warm up to Nutra-Saff or did they take to it right away?

    1. Hi Kimberley,
      Interesting. I’ve tried it three times but with only very mixed success. I could get some birds to eventually eat it in my yard but it was a struggle. Mostly I was seeing cardinals and mourning doves eat it and they are happy with the less expensive regular safflower. But every yard and group of birds is different. I’m glad it worked out better for you in your yard.

  4. I just started feeding birds last year when we moved and used standard bird seed mixes. I joined a local FB bird group and heard so many people suggest using Nutra-Saff, referred to around my neck of the woods as Golden Safflower, to get rid of specific unwanted birds or to attract others. I only had one American Goldfinch show up last year.

    I started using Golden Safflower this year to reduce the number of House Sparrows. I use it in two tube feeders (one on my deck and one in my front yard) and in a tray feeder (on my deck). I’m overrun with American Goldfinches who devour the stuff and both House and Purple Finches stop in for a bite as well. The Black-capped Chickadees seem to like the Golden Safflower.

    The problem is I seem to have lost many other birds who stopped by as well. Cardinals don’t seem to come by and I have a dedicated black oil sunflower seed feeder as well as feeder with a fruit and nut mix. (Yes, I have a lot of feeders. ) My Red-Bellied Woodpecker stopped coming by months ago and only just today made an appearance. The White-breasted Nuthatches seen to have disappeared recently as well.

    The squirrels don’t really like it, thankfully. The only time they touch my tray feeder is if I put mealworms, another seed mix or if I chop up unsalted nuts (I spoil my wild birds). But a face an old tray feeder that I keep on the deck floor for them to distract them from my feeders. I feed them a critter mix of whole kernel corn, black oil sunflower, and a few peanuts. I supplement the peanuts with some additional ones when I put out peanuts for the Blue Jays.

    1. Hi Louise,
      Interesting! The goldfinches in my yard could not be less interested in this seed. But then again, I was also offering nyjer and sunflower hearts so maybe they were already content with what they had. My local cardinals seemed fine with it.

      It sounds like the reduction in birds happened when you switched the seed months back? (I ask because I live within the Brood X cicada territory so most of our birds have switched to eating cicadas for the past few weeks except for the finches and Mourning Doves.)

      It really does go to show that every location and group of birds is different. Something birds love in one yard may not be appreciated at all in another. And that can be good or bad, depending on what you are hoping for with the seed.

      Have you tried any of the cage wrapped style of feeders? I had a problem with House Sparrows a few years ago. I got rid of them by reducing some of the close cover near the feeders. (I’ve got a blog post about it.) But when I did have them in the yard, they seemed to prefer the open feeders rather than the cage feeders.

      Thanks for sharing that!

      1. I think what stopped some of the birds was nesting time.

        Soon after, I had two juvenile Red-bellied Woodpeckers back at my suet feeders, Chickadees, and juvenile Goldfinches with mom and dad begging for Golden safflower in early September. Mourning Doves started to visit my tray feeder. We have a small space between our deck and fence, so we keep it natural. We threw wildflower seeds in the spring for bees and butterflies. The birds throw seed down there and I empty my seed there, so there’s lots of food, sunflowers, corn, and safflower growing. The Goldfinches loved eating the safflower. The squirrels demolished the sunflowers, leaving behind only the petals!

        My big problem in late July, August, and most of September was Grackles. Oh. My. Gosh. Two to four dozen of them. Every day. They would eat golden safflower once they emptied everything else. Someone told me they thought it may be due to the drought, that they didn’t have enough food in their normal eating locations. I hope that’s the case. They’re like having unruly teenagers around! ‍♀️

        I tried leaving my feeders empty for a week. Didn’t work. Most recently I left them empty for two weeks, all of them, which left my Finches without food. Now that I filled them again, the Grackles haven’t returned (I live right on the edge of their year round living area.) but, so far, neither have the Goldfinches. I hope they’ll find their way back.

        I haven’t tried a caged feeder because I don’t want to prevent larger birds from having access. I stopped putting any seed out that House Sparrows will eat this past spring, except they’ve taken to eating my suet balls I hang from my porch. They’re intended for the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and the occasionally Red-bellied. I don’t mind that the House Sparrows eat there too. The Chickadees stop in as well.

        I bought a dedicated mealworm feeder that allows me to raise and lower the bell cover for the size of the bird I want to have access. It’s the best thing I bought! The squirrels stay away from, at least so far. And the Chickadees have access to all the mealworms they want. I still throw some in the tray feeder occasionally.

        1. Hi Louise,
          Grackles can be such a challenge. The drought theory makes sense. I’ve found over the years that birds (and other creatures) will sometimes start eating seed that they are not “supposed to” eat if they are hungry enough. It makes sense. I find one or two grackles visiting to be fine, but when they arrive in big flocks like that, well, not so fine. I hope your crowd has moved on to give your feeders some peace!

  5. Hi
    I’ve been using golden safflower since the spring of this year. The blackbirds would come in flocks everyday a empty my 4 feeders in three days. I was feeding sunflower chips. I also had a squirrel problem. I switched to nutrasaff when I read that blackbirds and squirrels would avoid it. It took a good two weeks but I have not had any blackbirds or squirrels all summer. I have a lot of cardinals along with the regulars… mourning doves, finches, buntings, nuthatches and even the odd woodpecker. I even have. Robins coming to the feeders! My feed costs are now actually lower. I love the stuff!
    Really enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work

    1. Hi Larry,
      I’m so glad to hear it’s working so well for you. Sounds like you have a nice mix of birds visiting now!

    2. What also helped with my squirrel problem in my front yard, as much as I love the little rascals, is I bought a fantastic feeding station. It was a bit expensive but when you consider the cost of what a squirrel can go through in food, I felt it was worth it. It’s really sturdy and the only squirrel issue I had was because I put a shepard’s hook with hanging baskets too close to it. ‍♀️ I moved the hook and no more squirrel.

      It’s called Squirrel Stopper Deluxe Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder Pole System with Baffle. You can see different systems on JCs Wildlife also.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.