American Goldfinch photo by Old Pirate
If you want to attract goldfinches as well as purple and house finches, pine siskins, and redpolls to your backyard, one of the first things you will want to do is get yourself a nyjer seed bird feeder. This will be in the form of a thistle tube bird feeder or a thistle sock bird feeder. There is also another, fairly new thistle bird feeder on the market made from wire mesh.
Niger Flower (Guizotia abyssinica)
Nyjer, nyger, niger and thistle are all names used to refer to a small black seed cultivated in India and Ethiopia for over a thousand years. The true niger seed comes from the Guizotia abyssinica plant which is an annual herb grown for its edible oil and seed. It is NOT a type of thistle and is not a weed. As a matter of fact, it is now grown in the United States.
Niger seed probably got confused with thistle because goldfinches are known to eat thistle seed and use the downy fluff from thistle plants for their nests. Because of this, the Wild Bird Feeding Institute trademarked the name Nyjer in 1998 to try to differentiate these two terms in the mind of the public. I don’t think that this was successful however because most people still think Nyjer seed is some kind of thistle and a noxious weed if allowed to grow.
When you purchase Nyjer seed, many companies still use the word thistle on the package which has the unintended result of confusing the public even more. This bird seed is imported from India and Ethiopia and by USDA regulations must be sterilized, not to keep the niger seed from spouting, but to keep other noxious weeds that are incidentally mixed in with the niger seed from sprouting. As stated above, there is now American grown niger seed available here in the United States that is not sterilized.
Because Nyjer seed is so expensive (over a dollar a pound in 2008) it is important to feed this seed in specially designed feeders. A good Nyjer seed bird feeder will allow many birds to feed at once while not allowing excess seed to be wasted. In my experience, the thistle tube bird feeders are the best. They are made of polycarbonate tubes with small slits in the plastic, just large enough for the finches to pull out one seed at a time. This limits the amount of wasted seed.
The Nyjer seed bird feeders made of wire mesh would be my second choice. They hold large amounts of seed and allow flocking goldfinches to feed wherever they land, not being restricted to a perch. They are probably best used with a seed tray below to catch spilled seed.
If you want an inexpensive choice, as far as the initial cost of the feeder goes, you can purchase a thistle sack bird feeder. These are made of durable, fine mesh nylon and allow as many hungry finches to feed as can comfortably hang on the thistle sack. They now are available in black which makes the beautiful goldfinches really stand out. These mesh bags waste more seed than either of the other two Nyjer seed bird feeder types, costing you more in the long run because of wasted seed.
Which ever feeder you choose, you are guaranteed to have flocks of Goldfinches visiting your backyard!