About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nyjer (thistle) isn't related to Canada Thistle

Nyjer, niger, and thistle are all common names used to identify a tiny black birdseed cultivated in Asia and Africa that is high in calories and oil content, and loved by American Goldfinches. It's sometimes confused with the purple, prickly, Canada thistle but Nyjer isn't related to that weed at all.
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The scientific name for the Nyjer plant is Guizotia abyssinica. Its bloom has yellow, daisy-like flowers, and before it is shipped into the country the Nyjer seed has been heat treated to prevent the growth of any noxious seeds. Even if it did sprout, Michigan’s growing season is too short to produce a flowering plant.

There are 20 different kinds of native thistle plants in the U.S. that are also adored by finches, but the most common thistle that pops up in people’s yards was actually brought over from Europe. Canada thistle, Cirsium arvense, is a vigorous, competitive weed that occurs in a wide range of habitats and is difficult to control due to its ability to re-grow from its extensive, deep creeping root system.

It is native to Europe and was apparently introduced to North America by colonists in the early 17th century. It is illegal to sell and by 1991 it had been declared noxious by at least 35 states and 6 Canadian provinces. Canada thistle is a 2 to 5 foot tall herbaceous perennial with numerous small, compact purple or white flowers on the upper stems from June to Oct.

But it’s still alright to come in and ask for thistle seed because we know you want Nyjer "thistle" seed. However, legally we label our seed Nyjer so the Agricultural department won't come in and shut us down for selling Canada thistle, a noxious weed seed.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why do finches love nyjer seed so much, when it's not even a native plant? Why would they like a seed that isn't commonly found in their habitat?

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

Dandelions and Canada thistle are also a couple non-native plants with seeds that American Goldfinches devour. The birds don’t read memos about native and non-native, they just know yummy, high fat food when they taste it.

More than 55 million adults in the United States feed birds around their home, which makes bird-feeding the second most popular hobby in the country after gardening. And the seed we use in the bird feeding industry is dependent largely on food grown for human consumption.
The most common birdseed ingredients, sunflowers, peanuts, safflower, corn, millet, and nyjer are all crushed for oil, grown as staple crops or grains for animal feed. And most of these plants have been hybridized to produce high yields with the highest nutrition.

Finches do forage for native seeds from plants like asters, coneflowers, grasses, native milkweed and trees such as alder, birch, western red cedar, and elm. They like to hang out in weedy fields, open floodplains, and other overgrown areas with some shrubs and trees for nesting. To encourage goldfinches into your yard, you can plant native seed producing plants and hang sunflower and nyjer bird feeders. I find their song especially warm and sunny in the winter.