hand filling nyjer seed

Nyjer seeds are tiny and worth their weight in gold.

I have ‘Black Gold’ in my yard.  This is not the oily variety that people lust after and drill holes in the ground to get; this is a treasure for many small birds and as a result a gift to those of us who enjoy watching the birds as they feed in our yards.  What I’m referring to is a tiny, (a one pound can contain more than 130,000 seeds) black seed that comes from the African yellow daisy.  It has been and still is known by a variety of names.  Niger (for Nigeria where it originated), Nyjer – a trademark name given in 1998 to clarify pronunciation, and Thistle. The last is a misnomer because the African yellow daisy is not in the thistle family. One explanation given for this name is that Nyjer is highly popular with the goldfinches that naturally eat thistle seeds and use its fluffy down to line their nests.

Though it was originally grown in Nigeria, today it is commercially grown in other African countries and parts of southeast Asia. Before it can be shipped to the U.S., it is sterilized using intense heat, thereby preventing germination of any other seeds that might be mixed in.  The Nyjer seed itself rarely germinates.

Nyjer is a type of oilseed and contains 35% fat, 18% protein, 18% fiber and 12% moisture, making it a healthy, wholesome feed for many of the smaller birds, like the American goldfinch, Pine Siskin, both species of Redpolls, Indigo Bunting, Purple and House Finches, Mourning Doves and Dark-eyed Juncos. The fat helps especially in the colder months, and the protein is useful during the seasons of molt, helping the birds to regrow new feathers. Given a choice, the first three species listed above will choose Nyjer over any other feed.

Indigo bunting and goldfinch on feeder

An American Goldfinch and Indigo Bunting share a meal of Nyjer seed

goldfinch at thistle feeder

Goldfinches on a sock feeder

Because the seeds are so tiny, they require a certain kind of feeder, in order to reduce waste. There are three types available; mesh, sock, and tube.  The first two have openings that are throughout the design, allowing birds to feed in any spot, but seed can easily fall through the openings and they are not as durable as tube feeders such as the Droll Yankees Finch Flocker. This feeder has six ports (narrow holes) in the plastic tube, as well as perches for the birds to use as they feed.  There is less waste with this kind of feeder and since Nyjer seed is more expensive than other seeds (due to import costs), most people prefer the tube feeder. The yellow top and bottom pieces of this feeder are also an attractant for the Goldfinches.

If you haven’t already tried this type of seed and feeder, now is a good time, while the finches are busy building nests and raising young.  Add some ‘black gold’ to your backyard and enjoy your riches.

By Kate Crowley