Omaha, Neb. People who feed birds have been getting their pockets pecked.
Birdseed prices have been fluctuating for months, and the cost of a premium seed imported from India is at an unprecedented high. All this has made the estimated one in six Americans who feed wild birds rethink their backyard buffets.
Dolly Lara’s bird-feeding hobby goes back 35 years, and she couldn’t imagine not feeding her feathered friends. But with nyjer seed costing $80 for a 50-pound bag, she said with a laugh, she might have to reconsider how often she puts out the good stuff.
“Maybe only on a good holiday,” said Lara, from Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Sunflower-based black-oil seed, the most popular variety, retailed for about $30 per 50-pound bag in September. The supply tightened because restaurants and snack chip makers used sunflower oil to counter high prices of corn and soy cooking oils, said Sue Hays, executive director of the Wild Bird Feeding Industry trade association.
Sunflower birdseed is down to about $20 a bag now, the high end of its usual price range. But the price of nyjer seed — known as “black gold” in the feed industry — is expected to stay abnormally high through the prime bird-feeding season that lasts until the middle of spring.
Two factors tightened the supply and drove prices up, said Gordy Kribs, senior trader who specializes in birdseed imports for North Pacific Ag Products in Portland, Ore.
Some 30 percent to 50 percent of the Indian nyjer crop was wiped out by rainstorms in January. In turn, Ethiopian contractors, seeing an opportunity to capitalize, withheld shipments of their nyjer in hopes to securing higher prices, Kribs said.