Goldfinch Bait: Thistle, Niger or Nyjer

American Goldfinches require incentive to visit your backyard birdfeeder: nyjer seeds.

When I was growing up, my family spent many evenings listening to the radio. One of our favorite programs was Duffy’s Tavern. The program opened with the proprietor answering the telephone: “This is Duffy’s Tavern, where the elite meet to eat!” After I started feeding birds in 1975, we dubbed our yard “Osborne’s Tavern, where the elite of the bird world meet to eat.”

On our relatively small suburban lot in central Texas, we maintain eight to 10 feeders and two birdbaths throughout the year. Most of the feeders are in the front yard where I can see them from my “writing window.” Two are in the back yard, so we can view them from our dining room.

Many years ago, I compared bird clientele notes with a friend who lives one block up the street and became envious when I discovered Bobby had hordes of American Goldfinches coming to her birdfeeders and I had none. I learned that she offered thistle or nyjer seed in a special birdfeeder for goldfinches. I tried the same with no luck.

After three weeks, I called Bobby and suggested there must be something in her yard I didn’t have in mine. After thoughtfully pondering my predicament, she said, “I have two sycamore trees. Goldfinches love sycamore seedballs.”

Sycamore Seedballs For Goldfinches
I knew it would take years to grow sycamore trees, and I didn’t have that kind of patience. I decided to transform our mimosa tree into a sycamore tree. When I told Bobby my plan she dubiously replied, “I’ve always thought only God can make a tree.” However, when she saw my determination, she helped me clip several branches from her sycamore that were heavily laden with seedballs. I hurried home with the treasure.

If the neighbors didn’t already know I was a bird nut, this surely convinced them. There I was, for all to see, precariously perched on a ladder, tying sycamore balls to the winter-bare branches of a mimosa tree!

With baited branches, I watched with bated breath. On the third day, my insane efforts paid off when two American Goldfinches found the seedballs, then the nyjer birdfeeder. The next day and the next and the next, more birds appeared until I was feeding 50 to 100 goldfinches every day!

From daylight until late afternoon, American Goldfinches were eating us out of house and thistle! The birds were waiting in line for their turn at the little black seeds. I added two more birdfeeders to relieve the pressure.

One day when there was absolutely no more room at the inn, suddenly, in the midst of gold feathers I saw “red” at the sunflower feeder nearby. A male Northern Cardinal had dropped in to dine. At the same instant, an American Goldfinch spotted “red.” To my amazement, that frustrated yet enterprising goldfinch grabbed onto the cardinal’s tail to await its turn at the coveted food supply. The goldfinch was hanging upside-down from the end of the cardinal’s tail! The dignified cardinal kept his cool. He continued eating sunflower seeds as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening.

It sounds crazy, I know, but since that fall so long ago, the ritual has become an annual event at our house. Toward the middle of November, I “tie some on for the birds.” Our mimosa tree has long since died, so now I tie sycamore balls to the tops of the feeders. Then we wait for the return of our favorite winter guests.

Recently I learned that if you tie a yellow ribbon at the top of the thistle feeder, American Goldfinches will see it and think it’s another goldfinch. Now my “tying some on” ritual includes sycamore balls and yellow ribbons.

What It Takes
After American Goldfinches find your thistle feeders, they will readily come to black-oil sunflower seeds placed in almost any type of birdfeeder. Stock tube feeders with the niger (thistle) seeds.

If House Finches become a problem at the nyjer feeders, all you have to do is turn the feeders upside-down. Acrobatic American Goldfinches have no problem feeding upside down, but House Finches will give up in frustration.

Water is also very important for American Goldfinches. They prefer rather shallow birdbaths to splash around in.

These cheerful backyard birds brighten yards all across the United States and into Canada. Witnessing the unfolding miracle of American Goldfinches as they exchange their olive-drab winter plumage for the brilliant canary-yellow garb of spring makes all the zaniness worthwhile.

In late April and early May, goldfinches migrate from southern regions of the country to northern regions for their breeding season. We always hold in our hearts the assurance that our yard in central Texas will once again become “Osborne’s Tavern, where the elite meet to eat,” if I but continue my ritual of “tying some on for the birds!”

Want to learn more about feeding backyard birds? Check out these articles!

Backyard Birdfeeder Seed Tips
Birdwatching Through Windows
Backyard Feeders: Dangers To Watch Out For


Article Categories:
Birds · Lifestyle