Thistle seed is popular, but if you fill your feeders with it, what birds will visit? Learn which familiar birds eat Nyjer seed. Can Birdseed Start Weeds in Your Yard?. If you’re inviting flocks of birds to visit your yard by enticing them with birdseed, you may also be inviting weeds. When seed falls from the feeder to the ground there is potential for germination. This is not a problem with all types of bird food. By being a conscientious … How to grow Thistle flowers. It is also considered Thistle weed plants growing in fields. Cardinals love the seeds. The Gardener's Network.
Birds That Eat Nyjer – Seed-Eating Birds
Melissa Mayntz is a bird expert, certified Master Naturalist, writer, and author with over three decades of experience. She’s published in several national magazines, including National Wildlife Magazine, Bird Watcher’s Digest, and WildBird Magazine. Melissa has studied hundreds of bird species around the world, traveling to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, the central Pacific, the Middle East, and more on birding expeditions.
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
Nyjer seed—also commonly known as niger or thistle seed—is popular with many backyard bird species, particularly seed-eating birds and winter finches. Knowing which birds eat Nyjer can help birders choose the best birdseed and appropriate feeders for their backyard flock.
Nyjer is a small, thin, black seed from the African yellow daisy (Guizotia abyssinica). Though it is not related to the thistle plant, Nyjer is often referred to casually as “thistle seed.” High in oil, it is a nutritious source of energy for backyard birds and is one of the most popular types of birdseed. Depending on crops, import prices, and retailer options, however, it can also be one of the most expensive birdseeds. To lower the cost, many backyard birders prefer to offer Nyjer in limited quantities or will choose specialized feeders to ensure the seed is not accidentally spilled and wasted. Nyjer is also often found in finch mix or canary birdseed blends, often with sunflower chips or small millet seeds that also appeal to the birds that eat Nyjer. Because these mixes have smaller proportions of Nyjer, they are often less expensive than pure thistle seed.
Bird Species That Eat Nyjer
Birds that prefer Nyjer are seed-eating bird species. They typically have smaller, sharply-pointed bills that can easily manipulate such tiny seeds to crack shells and extract the rich seeds. Many Nyjer-loving birds are also called clinging birds because of their habit of acrobatically clinging to the sides of feeders rather than perching while feeding, and many of them can even eat upside down. These foraging habits help them feed on the natural seeds of flowers, which could be at unusual angles or waving in the wind when the birds are eating. Still, other bird species that feed on Nyjer are ground-feeding birds that will forage in leaf litter after flowers have shed their seeds. These larger seed-eating birds will also gather beneath specialized Nyjer feeders and sift through discarded shells for any seeds that have been spilled.
The most popular birds that eat Nyjer include the following:
Nyjer is a popular seed with many other finches, sparrows, doves, towhees, quail, and buntings. Even unexpected birds may try a bite of Nyjer when it is offered, and woodpeckers, thrushes, chickadees, and other birds have been spotted snacking at thistle seed feeders.
When Nyjer Isn’t Necessary
While this seed has relatively wide appeal in the backyard, some birds won’t give it a second glance. Orioles, waxwings, and other strongly frugivorous species will not pay any attention to Nyjer, and nectar-loving birds such as hummingbirds will also ignore a Nyjer feeder. Birds with larger, less adept bills such as cardinals, starlings, and grosbeaks cannot easily munch on thistle seed, and they are more likely to use other feeders and try other seeds instead. If any of these are the types of birds a backyard birder wants to attract, a Nyjer feeder is not necessary.
Even if there are plenty of finches visiting the feeders, they may forsake a Nyjer feeder if there are abundant natural foods available instead. If the backyard landscaping includes plentiful seed-bearing flowers for birds, an extra feeder may be ignored until the natural seed supplies are exhausted. In these cases, backyard birders often take down Nyjer feeders in late summer and fall when natural seeds are plentiful, but those feeders will be welcome and popular from late fall through early summer.
Attracting Birds With Nyjer
To attract birds by offering Nyjer, select appropriate bird feeders that have small mesh or tiny feeding ports to release the seed without spilling. Either soft mesh sock-style feeders or more durable metal mesh feeders can be suitable. For many birders, offering Nyjer in the winter is the best option, as many seed-eating birds are year-round residents but natural seed supplies are scarce in winter, so thistle seed feeders will be more popular. Birders who have not offered Nyjer before may choose mixed seed that includes Nyjer first to help the birds get accustomed to the new seed. Tricks to attract birds to a new feeder can also be useful for introducing birds to Nyjer.
Many birds eat Nyjer, and adding this nutritious, high-energy seed to a backyard buffet can attract a range of finches, sparrows, and other seed-loving birds to the yard.
Can Birdseed Start Weeds in Your Yard?
Many of the plants that grow from birdseed can be classified as weeds. In fact, Oregon State University warns that birdseed is known for creating weed infestations. Most commercial seed mixes contain only a small percentage of seed that birds find desirable, with the rest being filler seed species, such as red millet and sorghum, that end up on the ground and grow into weeds.
It is easy to identify plants from birdseed by their seedy heads, which self-sow prolifically if left to grow. Fortunately, there are several strategies to prevent the mess while still attracting seasonal and year-round birds to the garden.
Birdseed can start a variety of different weeds in the garden, so it is best to use a low-mess or no-waste birdseed.
Use No-Waste Birdseed
One of the most straightforward solutions for curbing weed growth from birdseed is to purchase no-waste birdseed. Birdseed makes a weedy mess when it is scattered on the ground in part because the seed is minimally processed and still able to germinate. No-waste birdseed comes pre-hulled so that it can’t germinate if it lands on the ground. Sometimes called ‘low-waste’ or ‘mess-free’ birdseed, this variety is more expensive than many other birdseed blends, but it will prevent weeds while keeping wild birds fed.
Another option is creating a homemade blend of birdseed that contains only the seed types that are most desirable to birds, which will help ensure that the birds eat them all rather than scattering them on the ground. The University of New Hampshire Extension recommends creating a birdseed mix with 50 percent sunflower seeds, 35 percent proso white millet and 15 percent cracked corn. This mix will attract a variety of birds to a feeder, particularly if you locate the seed in different feeders around the garden.
Choose the Right Feeder
Choosing the right feeder can help eliminate the seed waste that causes weed infestation by providing a more efficient feeding experience catered to the species of bird. Different types of birds respond to different types of feeders. Tube feeders will attract small birds that like to hang upside down while foraging, such as chickadees and goldfinches, while hopper-style feeders work best for larger birds, such as grosbeaks and cardinals, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension. Platform feeders work well for a variety of birds depending on whether they are hung high in a tree or placed near the ground.
Positioning a bird feeder wisely will also help prevent a weedy birdseed mess. Oregon State University recommends positioning a tray beneath the bird feeder to catch any spillage. Placing the feeder over a concrete patio or driveway where seeds can’t germinate also helps prevent a weed infestation. Be sure to sweep up any seeds that do spill on the ground immediately after you notice them.
Create Bird-Friendly Landscaping
A well-stocked bird feeder is one way of attracting birds to the garden, but a more sustainable and less messy alternative is to plant landscaping that provides habitat and food for birds instead. The University of Missouri Extension recommends studying the habitat needs of the types of birds you hope to attract. For instance, birds such as the goldfinch prefer to eat and linger in shrubby landscapes, while meadowlarks prefer open, meadowlike spaces. American robins like tall trees and open fields, so the typical yard with a shade tree will appeal to them.
The right environment will attract birds, but planting flowers, shrubs and trees that provide a source of food will encourage them to linger. Cornflowers (Echinacea purpurea, zones 3a-8a) will provide food with their seed heads during the winter months, as will the ox-eye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), which grows perennially within U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3a to 9a, according to the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension. Trees such as the persimmon (Diospyros virginiana, zones 4a-9a) and coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus, zones 2-7) both provide food for birds in winter with their fruit and nuts.
How to Grow Thistle Flowers – – or Thistle Weeds
Thistle plants are a wildflower. Thistle is an invasive weed. Depending upon who you talk to, they are either interested in growing thistle flowers to feed the backyard birds, or trying to get them out of the lawn or backfield. There are hundreds of varieties, many of which, are invasive. They quickly spread through pastures. Cows will not graze near them. Others are grown by gardeners for their flowers. Many of these gardeners, also grow thistle to attract finches to their yards. Goldfinches just love the seeds.
Here are some comments we’ve heard about this plant:
- “Thistle is a flower, which gardeners enjoy growing.”
- “To me, these plants are nothing more than an invasive weed, and not easy to control.”
- “Thistle plants are great to have around the yard to attract goldfinches.”
- “I love Milk Thistle. Its milky sap serves my medical ailment.”
Boy, if you were a thistle plant, you’d probably have a personality complex, suffering from multiple personalities. There is indeed a love-hate relationship….. either you love it, or you hate this plant.
Milk Thistle has medicinal applications and has been in use since the Roman Empire. Most notably, it has been used to treat liver ailments. It has also been used to treat kidney and spleen problems.
What Birds like Thistle Seeds? All kinds of finches, most notably, goldfinches, like the seeds. Mourning Doves, and Juncos, a type of Sparrow, also like thistle. The seeds have lots of fats, nutrients, and protein. They are great for your winter bird feeder.
Did You Know? Artichokes are a member of the Thistle family.
Flowers Bloom: Summer
Flower Colors: Most flowers are Purple. However, there are varieties that produce varying shades of blue, pink, purple, and yellow.