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Everything You Need to Know About Niger Seed

Niger seed is a firm favourite with goldfinches and greenfinches.
Niger is an excellent bird food for your garden. But there are several common misconceptions regarding niger. So what exactly is niger and what is the truth about this little black seed?

What are Niger Seeds?

Niger is also known as nyger and nyjer. It is the seed of the African yellow daisy Guizotia abyssinica which is an upright, branched herb. This brings us to the most common misconception about the seed. Niger is not the seed of a thistle!

The notion that niger seeds were thistle seeds seems to have evolved because it is known that goldfinches love thistles. They feed on them and use thistle down to build their nests. As goldfinches also relish niger seed the association was perhaps inevitable and may have been fostered by seed producers to aid sales.

Will Niger Seed Sprout?

No! All niger or nyjer seed sold as bird food is sterilised before importation and so will not sprout in your garden to produce invasive plants. Guizotia abyssinica is actually not an invasive plant anyway. The seed is sterilized because back in the 1980’s shipments were found to contain dodder seed. Dodder can present a threat to agriculture as it is a parasitic weed that attaches itself to a host and ultimately kills it. The niger is not the target of the sterilization process. It is the dodder that must be eliminated.

Which Birds Eat Niger Seed?

Greenfinches, goldfinches, siskins and sparrows all enjoy niger seed. It is an oily, high protein and high calorie source of nutrition that is particularly beneficial for birds in the winter months. At this time of year birds need to pile on the fat to protect themselves from the cold temperatures. Niger is also an important food for birds during the summer and early spring. This is when birds moult. The protein content in niger helps new feathers to grow.

Can People Eat Niger Seed Too?

Yes! Niger seed is common in southern India where it is used to make chutney. The seeds are also used as a spice in certain curry dishes. In Ethiopia niger seeds feature in a natural treatment for the common cold. Perhaps some birds have sensed the special properties of niger seeds.

Can Niger Seed be Bad for Birds?

Niger is an oily seed and so easily spoils. If it becomes mouldy then it represents a hazard to birds. Always remove any seeds from feeders which remain uneaten after three to four weeks. Shake your feeder regularly to prevent clumps and mould developing. Try to ensure that the seed remains dry and if bird activity is low, place less seed in your feeder. If mould is visible then discard the seed and thoroughly clean the feeder before refilling.

Niger (nyjer) seed is a nutritious food loved by several species and so is bound to be a big hit with your garden birds.


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