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.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What is Nyger 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.
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.

Goldfinch amongst the ThistlesImage by RunnerJenny via FlickrIt 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.
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Vetsy said...

Good educational post... I had no idea that Nyjer thistle came from Asia and Africa..

Now if I could only keep those darn sparrows off! of my thistle socks so that the Goldfinches may eat some of it too"

Steve said...

I have been looking for a while now and thanks for this piece as I had found Nyger or Niger seed information very scarce.

This page is more useful to me than Wikipedia so that's great..! I have a question please:

Since we introduced a Niger seed into our garden in the UK about 6 weeks ago the birds are rarely here. I did read somewhere else that if the Niger seeds "go off" they can put off birds plus we do have a Sparrow Hawk around also which it may be but they - i.e not Finches really don't seem to like it? Anyone else had problems with Niger seeds putting off birds?



Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

Thank you very much for the kind comments. Nyjer is a very popular seed with the American Goldfinches in the US.

There is no one reason you don't have finches. Nyjer seed can dry out fast. Make sure your Nyjer seed is fresh. One way to do this is to pinch the seed with your fingernails and see if any oil comes out. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. If your seed has dried out your feeder will be skipped.

Make sure the feeder is clean and free of any mold. I don’t know about European Goldfinches or any of the UK finches, but American finches are finicky and avoid dirty feeders.

American Goldfinches also leave the last bite on their plate. Our finches are notorious for leaving a tube feeder half full. We can’t just top off a feeder with fresh seed. We have to empty the older seed (if it's still good) into a different container, fill the bottom of the feeder with new seed and top it off with the older seed. Our goldfinches will probably eat down to that certain level again and then we’ll have to repeat the process.

There are also a lot of plants that attract finches. These birds love to flock to any flowers that form seed heads. If you garden with finches in mind, you get to enjoy them at the feeders and riding the flowers in search of seeds.

For a list of the finches in the UK go to: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/families/finches.aspx
For a list of the finches in the US go to: