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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