The fourth bird feeder in the Wild Bird Habitat Store’s “7 Basic Backyard Bird Feeders” series is the Nyjer Thistle Seed Bird Feeder typically referred to as a “finch feeder”. A finch feeder comes in several designs. It can be a cylinder tube with perches, constructed with wire mesh, or a fabric commonly referred to as “thistle socks”.


The finch tube feeder is a tube with very small openings above the perches where the finches sit to access the tiny Nyjer thistle seed. These are very popular bird feeders that are easy to hang and easy to fill. The tube may be an inexpensive acrylic. Higher quality thistle feeders are made from a durable poly-carbonate material which comes with a lifetime warranty. They also have easily removable bases for cleaning.


A variety of metal mesh finch feeders on the market work well. The finches can easily cling to the wire mesh extracting the thistle seed through the perforated openings. These feeders are made with both metal components or post-consumer recycled plastic components and both are designed for easy cleaning. The advantage of mesh feeders is if it rains the seed easily dries back out from the air flow through the mesh.



Another popular finch feeder is the thistle sock. Finch will readily cling to the sock to extract the Nyjer thistle through the fabric much as they do a wire mesh finch feeder. They are inexpensive and the nylon material is fairly durable. They make a great backup finch feeder to reduce over-crowding.


Finch feeders for feeding Nyjer thistle seed are specialty bird feeders designed specifically to attract members of the finch family. But no matter which finch feeder you choose to use, the most important thing is how freah is the Nyjer thistle seed you fill your finch feeder with.


Nyjer thistle seed is imported from India, Ethiopia, and Burma. It is not a true thistle plant but an old world coreopsis similar to our sunflowers. It is primarily grown and crushed to provide cooking oil in those regions but 60% of the Nyjer crop is imported to North America for feeding birds.


Nyjer thistle seed when arriving in North America is first sterilized to prevent the Nyjer seed from germinating. But a more important reason for that sterilization process overseen by the USDA  is to kill the germ of any unwanted invasive weed species that may be inadvertently hitching a ride in the Nyjer seed.


This sterilization process is accomplished by heat treating the Nyjer thistle seed, and since it is an oil seed, that heat treatment starts a drying out process of the oils in the seed which is what the finches are after. The drying out of those oils will naturally continue in storage which is why Nyjer thistle seed has a shelf life of approximately 6 months after which many finch will reject it. If you have ever purchased a bag of Nyjer thistle seed and find that the finch are not attracted to it, it is likely due to the fact those bags have been stored in a warehouse for up to a year or more reducing the oil content significantly.  Finches “bill” the Nyjer thistle seeds extracting the oil then drop the hulls to the ground. It’s the oil that provides the fat finch need for energy and to stay warm in the winter.  


Tips when buying Nyjer thistle seed:

  1. Purchase your Nyjer thistle seed from reputable wild bird feed suppliers.
  2. Avoid big box stores that buy Nyjer thistle seed in large quantities at a reduced price then warehouse the bags of Nyjer seed for extended periods of time.
  3. You can use fine sunflower chips which are high in oil content in any finch feeder as an alternative to Nyjer thistle seed.
  4. Seed tube bird feeders with open ports using hulled sunflower seeds will attract finch.
  5. Finches seem to almost prefer NutraSaff safflower over Nyjer thistle seed. NutraSaff is very high in oil content and the best part is it’s grown by American farmers.
  6. Finches will readily feed on black oil sunflower seed in a seed tube bird feeder if that is all that is available.


Now a word about “finch mixes”.

Many finch mixes on the market contain filler seeds that are not preferred by the birds you are trying to attract to a finch feeder and it will often go un-eaten and cast to the ground. One product often found in finch mixes is reed canary grass which is very invasive. Canary reed grass can spread and become a problem in wet areas and streams. Avoid any wild bird feed containing reed canary grass. Many other common grass seeds can be found in commercial finch mixes. Read the ingredient label. You may find flax seed in the mix which looks similar to Nyjer seed. All wild bird feed must be labeled by law and in order of content.


At Wild Bird Habitat we have been mixing our own finch mix for the past 25 years. It is simply 50% fresh Nyjer thistle seed and 50% fine sunflower chips. Today you can find this mix in many wild bird specialty stores. Wild Bird Habitat only offers  Nyjer thistle seed that has been triple air-cleaned to remove all foreign matter, dust, and immature Nyjer seeds that finch will not eat.


What Birds Are Attracted To Finch Feeders:

The bird most folks want to attract to a finch feeder is the American Goldfinch. In western states it is the Lesser Goldfinch. Other birds that will come to a finch feeder are Redpolls, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Buntings and House Finch. You’ll often find a number of birds foraging on the ground under a finch feeder such as native sparrows, Mourning Doves, and Dark-eyed Juncos.


I cannot stress enough the importance of purchasing fresh Nyjer thistle seed for your finch feeders. Numerous times I’ve had customers who made a recent purchase of a bag of thistle seed from a hardware or big box store and failed to attract finch, especially those fussy goldfinches. I’ll give them, at no cost, a few pounds of Wild Bird Habitat’s fresh high quality Nyjer thistle seed knowing they will come back to purchase more knowing they will have goldfinches within a day or two.  Quality matters.


Wild Bird Habitat Store’s Finch Feeders:

Finch Feeders – Nyjer Thistle Tube Feeders  

Finch Feeders – Mesh Nyjer Thistle Feeders

                             Nyjer Thisle Seed


Don’t forget to Like Us on Face Book or Follow Us on Instagram as Dave Titterington and the Wild Bird Habitat Stores continue our series on “The Seven Basic Bird Feeders” for your backyard bird feeding enjoyment. Watch for our next basic backyard bird feeder coming soon.


You can also review the first 4 of these 7 Basic Backyard Bird Feeders at the Wild Bird Habitat Stores.