Nyjer seed is the prefered name of this wild bird food, though niger and thistle are sometimes used to describe it. Do not be mislead by the name thistle, it is unrelated to native thistles and is not a threat to your garden.
Nyjer is imported from Africa and Asia. Before reaching market, the seed is heat sterilized. This greatly reduces the possibility of the nyjer seed or any weed seed, which is mixed in, from germinating. If by chance a seed does germinate, just pull the plant from the ground. Even if left in the ground, the plant will not last long as it does not grow well in the US.
This tiny seed is high in calories and has high oil content, making it a high-energy food source. It is highly desirable to birds adapted to eating small seeds such as American Goldfinches, Siskins and Redpolls.
There are two drawbacks to using this type of seed. First, the size of the seed is very small and requires a specialized feeder, called a thistle feeder. It will keep the tiny seeds from spilling out. Second, it is very expensive on a cost per pound basis.
It is important to use a proper feeder. A feeder designed for this type of bird food will commonly be called a thistle feeder or finch feeder. It will usually be in the form of a tube feeder. The difference between a regular tube feeder and one designed for nyjer seed is the size of the opening that the seed comes through is smaller.
Another type of feeder you can use is called a thistle sack. I believe this to be the best method for using nyjer seed. The thistle sack is inexpensive, lightweight and can feed many birds at the same time. There are several types of thistle sacks to choose from. The cheaper ones tend to have a weave that is too loose, allowing the seed to fall through with any movement, thus wasting seed.
Purchasing a higher quality thistle sack will save you money in the long run, because it will reduce the waste of this expensive seed. If you think the weave is too tight, run it through the washing machine to loosen it up a bit.
The design of the thistle sack helps to keep the seed dry. Since this seed is so small, it packs close together allowing for little air circulation. This causes the seed to rot quickly if wet, wasting seed. Since it may take some time to attract the targeted birds to your feeder, only put small amounts of seed in your feeders to begin with.
Don't let the cost of this wild bird seed or the required specialized feeder stop you from using it to attract some of the most beautiful birds around you.
Nyjer seed is great for attracting Goldfinches. Learn more about wild bird food here.
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