All About Nyjer Seed

Nyjer is a favorite backyard food of goldfinches, pine siskins, common redpolls, house finches, and other small-billed seed-eating birds.
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Nyjer, or thistle seed, is that tiny, black, oil-rich seed best known for attracting goldfinches to backyards across North America. Nyjer is typically offered in special tube feeders with tiny slots or in mesh sock feeders. Here are a few things that every feeding station manager should know about this popular backyard food.

1. When Nyjer seed dries out, birds won't eat it. Nyjer is an oily seed, which makes it an excellent energy source for the birds that eat it. But its oily nature also causes the seed to dry out over time and lose its attractiveness to birds. This can happen whether the seed is in a feeder or stored inside. Birds will turn their bills up to old, dried out Nyjer. Avoid waste by purchasing only the amount of Nyjer you can use up in a month or two's time.

2. Nyjer seed is not really thistle seed (and other confusing things about the name). Nyjer is often called thistle seed, but it is not the noxious thistle weed we see growing on roadsides. It typically will not germinate under your feeders since the USDA requires that all Nyjer seed imported to the United States be heat-treated for sterilization.

Nyjer is an agricultural crop imported primarily from India, Ethiopia, Nepal, and Burma (Myanmar). In these countries it is processed into both cooking and lighting oil.

3. Nyjer seed has a shell. If you think birds aren't eating the seed because you see a lot of black debris on the ground, examine it more closely: What you're seeing may be mostly the thin, empty Nyjer hulls.

4. When Nyjer seed becomes moldy, it must be discarded. Nyjer seed is vulnerable to spoilage while in the feeder. Replace Nyjer every three to four weeks if it is not being actively eaten. Shake the feeder daily to help prevent clumping and molding. If you're adding Nyjer to a feeder that has a quick-release base, add the seed from the bottom. This helps rotate the seed and prevents the seed in the bottom of the feeder from becoming compacted and moldy. Keep seed in the feeder dryer with the help of a weather guard or dome. And if bird activity slows down, fill your feeder only halfway.

If the seed does become moldy, it should be removed and disposed of where the birds will not find it. Use a 10 percent bleach-water solution to clean the feeder. Buy feeders that are easy to clean—the easier they are to clean, the more often we'll clean them, and that's good for the birds.

5. Goldfinches aren't the only birds that eat Nyjer seed. Nyjer is a favorite backyard food of goldfinches, pine siskins, common redpolls, house finches, and other small-billed seed-eating birds. You may also see nuthatches, chickadees, doves, downy woodpeckers, and other birds eating it.

And a bonus to offering Nyjer seed? Squirrels typically ignore it when fed straight up! So hang those Nyjer feeders and enjoy the finches and other birds.

About Nancy Castillo

Nancy Castillo is co-owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop in Saratoga Springs, New York. You can follow the bird activity in her yard at The Zen Birdfeeder blog.

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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018