A Seed Identity Problem – What You Don’t Know About Nyjer®
So, what are you feeding your Goldfinches? To be honest, it’s sort of a trick question. When we think of “thistle” as a flower, we usually picture the thistle which is considered the national flower of Scotland (Onopordum acanthium). This thistle has a pink to purple colored flower on a prickly head. If you garden, you may think of the noxious and common thistle weed (Sonchus oleraceus L.) which is also prickly, but invasive with a smallish yellow flower that isn’t all that attractive.
What adds to the confusion, is that Goldfinch actually will eat thistle seeds in the wild, if you have them growing nearby (see photo).
The truth is, though, when you feed your precious Goldfinches the seed you purchase at your independent wild bird retail store, you are not actually feeding them “thistle” as we know it at all. Though some may commonly call it “thistle”, it’s biological name is Guizotia abyssinica and it is not related to the two varieties mentioned above at all. In fact, this little black seed as developed some serious identity problems because of “name calling”.
The actually common name of Guizotia abyssinica is niger (pronounced ni-jer). Several years ago, due to confusion and offensive mispronunciation, the official name Nyjer® was developed and trademarked by the Wild Bird Feeding Industry. Nyjer® is primarily an oil seed crop that is grown in parts of India and Africa. It is also the only major wild bird feed ingredient that is imported from overseas. It is commonly irradiated prior to being allowed into the United States by law, but this does not effect its bird attractiveness, as anyone who feeds the birds will tell you. It also prevents most instances of reseeding in your garden, although I have had some tell me that they have had it grow.
It is a seed that spoils easily, however. It’s usually recommended that you purchase only the amount of seed that you can use in about a month or two. You may not recognize the smell of fresh seed. However, if it is rancid, you can smell it. It has the same stale smell as any other nuts might have if left too long in your cupboard.
Are Goldfinches Picky, Or What?
Yes, they are picky. If the seed isn’t fresh, they won’t come around. If it’s on the ground, and not in a feeder, they aren’t attracted to it. If the feeder is dirty, they won’t come to it. If the feeder isn’t the right kind, they might not be able to get the seed out easily. If the seed gets wet… well, you get the picture!
Since we love having these little sparks of yellow, we put up with it though, don’t we?
Birds Avoiding You? It May Be the Feeder
Since Nyjer® is so small, it is prone to caking when it gets wet. Even the smallest amount of dampness can cause it to cake up. This causes clumping in the feeder, and the birds may find it difficult to get the seed out.
We recommend a good Nyjer® feeder that is made especially for this seed. If you are using a regular feeder desinged for larger seeds, fine Nyjer® seed may blow out on windy days. I like a mesh feeder. Yes, more rain will get on the seed if it is rainy. The other argument, however, is that moisture can more easily wick away from the seed because of all the holes, and you might get more birds because they can easily cling to the entire surface, not just on pre-positioned perches. The diamond mesh of the model pictured here is perfect for serving up Nyjer® to your friends.
The feeder has to be kept clean as well. If you have one with ports, be sure that the seed moves easily in the tube and that the ports aren’t clogged with dampened and caked seed. If it needs cleaning, I recommend cleaning it at the end of the day. Use soapy water and rinse it well. Leave it to dry thoroughly overnight.
The “Squirrel” Secret
The best thing about Nyjer®: squirrels don’t usually go for it! So you don’t have to have special squirrel-proof gadgets and slinky contraptions to keep the varmints at bay.
As usual, however, I recommend you get a good sturdy feeder at your independent wild bird retail store. They’ll help you pick one out that won’t need to be replaced every year. Several manufacturers make models that have a lifetime guarantee. This is a case in which money spent for a good feeder from a reliable retailer makes sense. Your independent retailer is your friend and will be there if you have additional questions or problems.