The ultimate guide to using niger seed as bird food

Peter McNish

Using Niger Seed as bird food

Niger seed is a firm favourite for wild birds, but what do we actually know about this small and exotic seed? At Kennedy, we have put together the ultimate guide to using niger seed for feeding birds and why you should start using it as bird food.

Niger or nyjer?

To be honest, no one has really agreed on what the correct term is. Niger, nijer or nyger ot thistle seed are the main variations, but it doesn’t really matter which one you use. For the sake of continuity, we will be using niger in this guide.

Where does niger seed come from?

Niger seed actually comes from the Ethiopian highlands. It’s also located in other parts of Africa such as Malawi. Commercially, it is produced in Nigeria, Ethiopia, also stretching all the way to southeast Asia and India.

What is niger seed?

This tiny, fine seed is black in colour but usually, sprouts into a yellowy coloured flower. Guizotia abyssinica is the scientific name and is often mistaken for a thistle, which it isn’t. The confusion might stem from the fact that finches are particularly fond of both thistle seed and niger seed. Before it’s exported, the seed has to be treated and sterilized with high temperatures, to prevent germination and the sprouting of any flowers popping up in your garden, that may harm other native plants.


Other than bird feed, niger seed can be used for human consumption. You won’t be using it in the same way as our feathered friends do though. You will find the oil and the seed in recipes for curries, chutneys and other foods. Niger seed also offers plenty of medical uses.

How to use niger seed for birds

Because niger seed is rich in oil and high in nutrition, it makes it an outstanding food for garden birds all year round. Perhaps even better in winter as it will give garden birds that extra calorie hit that will help them store fat to keep them warm. The high protein count will help with the regeneration of feathers when malting throughout the year.

What birds eat niger seed?

Because the seed is tiny, smaller seed eating birds like Finches and Sparrows have developed into experts. These species have smaller pointed and sharp beaks, ideal for cracking open the shells of the niger seed. These smaller birds are acrobatic when they feed from niger seed feeder, often seen feeding from them upside down. This type of conditioning is great for the wild, where they will have to use these acrobatic skills to feed on their own.

Be wary though, this will also encourage big bully birds like pigeons who will scour the floor for any niger seed that has fallen. Using a seed tray attached to the bottom of the feeder will prevent this loss to the floor and deter the bigger birds hoping to steal some seed.

These are the types of birds niger seed will attract to liven up your garden:

  •         Sparrows
  •         Siskins
  •         Finches
  •         Redpolls
  •         Pigeons
  •         Doves.


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