The Nyjer® Blues

Thursday, August 15, 2013
Lately a few people have been telling me that their American Goldfinches don't seem to be eating much Nyjer® (also called Nyger®, Niger or thistle seed), instead they seem to feeding more on black oil sunflower.  The next question is typically, why?  If your finding your finches aren't eating your Nyjer® seed this summer as much as they typically do, here are a few possible explanations:

This spring in comparison to last year was quite wet and encouraged the rapid growth of our native plants.  Last season we experienced a bit of a drought in some areas which hindered the growth of our native plants.  Our native plants are also doing well thanks to a restriction and low use of herbicides.  In short our native plants are having a good year and are producing lots of seeds!  What does this mean for the goldfinches?  They have lots of natural food, including dandelions, thistles and cone flowers, which means they may visit feeders less frequently.  Goldfinches depend on bird feeders for 10-20% of their diet year round, the rest comes from natural sources and when there is an abundance of natural sources they may use feeders less frequently.
American Goldfinches eating native plants, ©Wild Birds Unlimited
Late July and August also happen to be the time of year when goldfinches begin nesting.  They feed their nestlings seeds.  Most likely they are feeding them with the seeds from native plants.  The good news is we will probably start seeing goldfinches return to Nyjer® feeders more frequently once their young have fledged in a couple of weeks.

American Goldfinches feeding on Nyjer®, ©Wild Birds Unlimited
If you have never fed Nyjer® before then just like any new feeder or food, patience is the key. It can take birds as long as a month to start feeding from a new feeder or eat new foods; but once they find it they will return!  To help them find your feeder faster you can try tying something yellow to the Nyjer® feeder (like a piece of ribbon) they seem to show a preference to the colour yellow.   You can also hang your feeder at a height above your head, goldfinches have a preference for feeders which hang high off the ground. 
American Goldfinches feeding on Nyjer®, ©Wild Birds Unlimited
Goldfinches can be picky eaters and like Nyjer® to be fresh.  Nyjer® is an oily seed which is why finches go crazy for it.  Nyjer® provides lots of protein and energy for them.  However Nyjer® seed can also dry out after a few months.  How can you tell if your Nyjer® is still good?  Simple, take a few seeds and a piece of white printer paper or paper towel.  Crush the seeds onto the paper and look for oil blotches.  If oil stains are present the Nyjer® is still fresh.  Purchase Nyjer® in smaller quantities to avoid any drying out of the seeds.
American Goldfinches eating Nyjer®, ©Wild Birds Unlimited
When Nyjer® gets wet it clumps like kitty litter and can spoil or go moldy.  If this happens the finches will loose interest in the food.  Make sure your Nyjer® stays dry by protecting it from the elements with use of a weather guard, plastic Nyjer® feeder with small holes or by using Feeder Fresh.  Feeder Fresh is a product that you put in your feeder with the Nyjer®.  It absorbs moisture keeping your Nyjer® dry, mold free and is safe for the birds to eat.  If Nyjer® ever gets mouldy take it out of the feeder and clean the feeder with a 10% bleach solution.  You can check if your Nyjer® is dry by shaking the seed in the feeder.  If it sticks in clumps, water has gotten into the feeder.  It should move around freely in the feeder.
Weather Guard on a WBU Nyjer® Feeder,  ©Wild Birds Unlimited
Feeder Fresh keeps your Nyjer® dry and mold free
Nyjer® seed has a lot of protein!  In fact, it has more protein per ounce than any other bird seed.  Protein is something that that birds need year round and look for in food sources.  Nyjer® is also a great way to discourage blackbirds and squirrels.  Since many Nyjer® feeders have small holes and only give access to the beaks of small birds, like finches, larger birds and squirrels typically leave Nyjer® feeders alone.  Nyjer® attracts a wide variety of finches through all seasons.  During winter in Ontario we see an interesting variety of finches that enjoy Nyjer® including: American Goldfinches, House Finches, Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls and Hoary RedpollsNyjer® also attracts birds other than finches.  I've seen chickadees, doves, juncos and even the occasional nuthatch enjoying Nyjer® seed.

This morning I saw my Nyjer® feeder full of goldfinches perhaps its time for them to enjoy more Nyjer® :)

Happy feeding!

~ Kristen

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