The African yellow daisy produces a tiny black seed beloved by goldfinches, redpolls, and siskins. The daisy is grown commercially for its seeds in Nigeria, Ethiopia, India, Myanmar, and Nepal. It is so important to the wild bird feeding industry, that the trade association registered the name “nyjer” as a trademark so we would all know how to pronounce it. (Long “i” sound) First it was known as “niger” but nobody in the United States, the largest market for wild bird seed, knew for sure how to pronounce that.
The African yellow daisy does not grow well in North America and that is just as well: It would be an exotic and invasive plant here and who knows what kind of ecological mischief it might do. Moreover, many people confuse it with domestic thistle which is an easily spread weed that, left untended, can easily conquer entire fields of beneficial crops. And while goldfinches will eat the seeds of thistle, they prefer the much richer nyjer seeds.
Because it would be an invasive crop in North America – although some is found here, especially in the Northeast – it cannot be imported into the United States until toasted to a temperature of 250 degrees F for at least fifteen minutes, ensuring that the seeds are sterile. That, plus the costs of ocean shipping and import duties, means that nyjer is expensive bird seed. But, even after all that toasting, it remains a high-oil content seed (about 35% fat and 18% protein)and an excellent wintertime bird food for the birds who eat it. Around our house both the House finches and the sparrows also eat it.
Because the seeds are so tiny, special feeders with very small openings are necessary. We use wire mesh feeders which also enable the goldfinches to eat upside down, something they like to do. Quail and doves will happily clean up anything that falls to the ground. Best of all, squirrels don’t bother with it. (“Nyjer? We don’t need no stinkin’ nyjer!”)
Until you’ve tried some in a feeder and attracted some birds, it is probably a good idea to start with a five-pound sack, but you can save money by buying it in larger quantities. It’s a good way to increase the bird varieties in your yards and on your balconies.