What’s in a Name
The seed of the African yellow daisy, Guizotia abyssinica, Nyjer is known by many names. The birdseed was originally called niger in reference to Nigeria and the plant’s geographic origin. The name was trademarked as Nyjer ® in 1998 by the Wild Bird Feeding Industry, however, to clarify proper pronunciation (NYE-jerr). Many birders also call it thistle seed, but Nyjer is not related to thistle plants, flowers, or seeds. It is believed that calling the seed thistle may have become popular because goldfinches, which adore Nyjer, also feed on thistle and use thistle down to construct their nests.
In parts of Africa, this seed is also called blackseed and inga seed.
About Nyjer Seed
Commercial Nyjer is grown in Africa, particularly Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as in India, Nepal, and Myanmar. In some areas the oil and seed are eaten in different recipes, including curries, chutneys, and gruel, and Nyjer has several medicinal uses as well. The most widely known use is for feeding birds, however, and the seed is imported around the world as a popular type of birdseed. Before it is imported, however, Nyjer seed is sterilized by intense heat to prevent germination of any additional seeds that may be part of the mix. This is required by many countries to prevent the introduction of invasive weeds or other unwanted plants into the environment. Treated Nyjer may germinate but would typically be stunted, limiting its spread and offering less of a threat to native plants.
A type of oilseed, Nyjer is a popular birdseed because after sterilization it will not sprout if spilled and because it is an exceptional energy source for birds. The basic nutritional components of Nyjer are:
35 percent fat (25 percent minimum)
18 percent protein (16 percent minimum)
18 percent fiber (20 percent maximum)
12 percent sugar (18 percent maximum)
12 percent moisture (maximum)
Because of this composition, Nyjer is especially popular as a winter bird food, when birds require foods with more oil and a higher calorie content so they can store fat to survive colder temperatures. The high protein content in Nyjer is also useful for regenerating feathers when birds molt in the late fall and early spring.
Birds That Eat Nyjer
Many seed-eating bird species will happily eat nothing but Nyjer. Birds that will take Nyjer from feeders include:
House and purple finches
Lesser and American goldfinches
Hoary and common redpolls
While all these birds will enjoy Nyjer if it is offered, not all of them will eat it exclusively. Goldfinches, redpolls, and siskins, however, will often eat nothing but Nyjer if it is readily available.
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