you noticed a minor change in our seed labels and thought to yourself: "Isn't the
proper name for my thistle seed NYJER? What gives? Why NIGER Guizotia abyssinica?"
Well, the name NYJER® is a trademarked name owned by the Wild
Bird Feeding Institute (WBFI) which is now owned by Wild Bird Centers of America—a
franchise operation with stores all over North America.
The name "Nyjer®" was created to eliminate product
confusion and the offensive mispronunciation of the word “niger.” It became a
recognized, trademarked name in 1998. However, due to legal constraints imposed upon J.J.
Cardinal's by WBFI in 2009, some eleven years after the name was changed, we have opted to
revert back to the common spelling: "niger" pronounced "nye-ger" or
"nie-jer"...or, let us simply call it what most of our customers call it: "thistle"— even though it
isn't. The legal beagles have spoken...and now you know the rest of the story.
Niger is not the pink to purple flowering plant of the thistle species. Niger
is an oilseed crop that is cultivated in Asia. The average plant height is four feet, and
it is traditionally harvested while the buds are still yellow, and then stacked to dry. The seeds, loosely held in the flower head, are black, and
narrowly long. It is the only major wild bird feed ingredient imported from overseas. In
1985, the US Dept. of Agriculture ruled heat treatment as a “condition of entry” when
bringing niger/thistle into the US. In 1997, treatment temperature was set at 250°F for
fifteen minutes to devitalize all weed seeds that may be present in niger shipments.
The “Guizotia abyssinica”/niger seeds have been marketed as bird
seed for about 40 years; it is highly attractive to American goldfinches, house finches,
black-capped chickadee, downy woodpecker, and if in the north, pine siskin and common
There are many styles of feeders
for offering thistle seed. These feeders have very small openings that conserve seed. If
you would like a feeder specifically for attracting small birds consider a niger/thistle
feeder. Niger seldom attracts larger birds, and squirrels do not have much interest in
niger/thistle. See a J.J.Cardinal Naturalist the next time you visit if you have questions
on niger/thistle or would like to see our assortment of feeders.
on behalf of the the Naturalists at J.J. Cardinal’s
"Happiness is wanting what you have."