Offer Nyjer Seed to Attract More Finches

Updated: Sep. 19, 2023

Learn where nyjer seed comes from and what types of birds eat it. Plus, find out what's the difference between nyjer and thistle seed.

Shutterstock 646529596Lost Mountain Studio/Shutterstock
Goldfinches, like this American goldfinch, are the most well-known thistle eaters, but these seeds also draw pine siskins, redpolls, and many other finches.

What is the Difference Between Nyjer Seed and Thistle Seed?

Tube or sock feeders full of thistle seed are a common way to welcome songbirds into your garden. But the next time you refill your feeders, think about this. The seeds you’re buying at the store aren’t what you might think. They don’t come from the plant we know as thistle here in North America. What’s in the package is nyjer seed, which is just as tasty and healthy for backyard birds.

254068295 1 Brad Osborne Bypc2020Courtesy Brad Osborne
American goldfinch plucking thistle seeds out

“When people refer to thistle seed that goes in feeders, they’re generally not talking about the seed that comes from either native or invasive thistle. They’re talking about Nyjer,” said John Rowden, director of community conservation at the National Audubon Society.

Nyjer seeds come from the African yellow daisy, a plant not commonly grown in the United States. The seeds are collected and sold by communities in northern Africa. Before they’re exported, the seeds are sterilized so the plant doesn’t become invasive in other environments.

It sounds like a lot of work to prepare this simple seed, but John said Nyjer’s value to birds makes the effort worthwhile. “It has a good combination of protein, fat and fiber, and that’s great as a winter bird food when fliers are trying to gain that high caloric content,” he said.

Besides serving store-bought seeds, John recommends planting native thistle to naturally bring feathered friends to your backyard. Visit to find out what options are native in your area.

Learn how to attract more goldfinches to your backyard.

Which Birds Eat Nyjer Seed?

goldfinch eating nyjer seedCourtesy Susan Ferency
American goldfinch eating nyjer seed.

Nyjer is suited for attracting finches, chickadees, pine siskins, juncos, sparrows, mourning doves and buntings, among others.

Nyjer seeds are tiny, but they still have a shell. If you think your backyard birds might be just pecking at their food—not eating it—check the ground litter for thin hulls.

“I scatter Nyjer seed on the grass under sock feeders for ground foragers. All manner of birds flock to it!” says Keith Golden of Lake Carroll, Illinois.

Meet the 3 types of goldfinches in the United States.

Feeders to Serve Nyjer Seed

mesh finch feederVia Merchant

John recommends using mesh socks or specialized tube feeders to share the seed, as they are designed to provide ample places for small birds to cling on.

Field editor Kathy Eppers has one tried-and-true suggestion. “Hang the thistle feeder away from your other feeders. It seems the goldfinches and house finches are most apt to feed when they are in an area that’s quiet, without the hustle and bustle of large birds like jays,” she said. Placement in the open also helps birds keep an eye out for predators.

Check out more of the best finch feeders to serve thistle seed.

Serve Only Fresh Nyjer Seed

You can serve nyjer seed in any season, but always keep it fresh.

“I bought a large bag of Nyjer seed, but the birds are not eating it. Could it be stale?” asks reader Cheryl Powers.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “Nyjer is wonderful for attracting goldfinches and other small seed-eaters, but it loses its appeal after it dries out, which can happen within a few months. Birds can tell when the seeds have gone dry and stale.

A way to test for yourself is to pour a handful of Nyjer seeds on a paper towel and then crush them thoroughly. If the seeds are still fresh, some oil from them should seep out onto the paper towel. If the seeds are completely dried out, it’s best to throw them away and buy some more—preferably a reliable brand from a wild bird feeding specialty store.”

As another benchmark, field editor Patrick Hogan said he analyzes the seeds’ shininess to determine freshness. If they look dull, he puts out a fresh batch of seed. And throw out the whole lot if seeds get too wet.

Next, learn how to choose sunflower seeds for birds, and why you should be offering black oil sunflower seed.