Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Get rid of grackles, blackbirds & starlings at your feeder!

Are your feeders being overrun with grackles, blackbirds, and starlings? What can you do about it? I hope to offer some ideas that provide you some relief.

Even if you can't identify them exactly, these dark birds are larger than your other feeder visitors. They come in large flocks and chase other birds away. They have voracious appetites! The can empty your feeders in minutes!

How can you get rid of these unwelcome bullies and keep them out of your bird feeders?

There are 4 effective ways you can get rid of grackles, blackbirds, and starlings at your feeder:
  1. Change the types of feeders you use
  2. Change what foods you feed birds
  3. Change the bird houses in your yard
  4. Do some home maintenance

Photo of a flock of blackbirds flying across the prairie
A flock of blackbirds ready to descend on your bird feeder!
Photo by Greg Gillson

Is this a seasonal issue or do you have blackbirds all year?


Common Grackles can be a problem in the East. They are resident in the Southeast and can be a problem all year. Elsewhere Common Grackles are migratory in the Northeast, Midwest, eastern and central Canada, and the Great Plains. Grackles in these latter locations might only be a problem in spring or fall migration.

Red-winged Blackbirds generally only visit feeders in the winter. They move to the marshes to breed in the summer. Brewer's Blackbirds in the West and Rusty Blackbirds in the East only form large flocks in the fall and winter. They also migrate northward in the summer.

European Starlings, Boat-tailed Grackles in the East and Great-tailed Grackles in the West are non-migratory. So they can be a problem all year.

If anyone has trouble with Yellow-headed Blackbirds, well, I'm jealous! They are migratory, too.

If your problem is a seasonal issue the solution is still the same. But you may not have to apply these remedies all year. There may be some times of the year you don't have to be so aggressive in getting rid of these birds and keeping grackles, blackbirds, and starlings away from your bird feeders.


Photo of 2 Common Grackles eating from a hopper feeder
Common Grackles at hopper feeder
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixaby

1. Change the type of feeders you use


There are several changes you can make to your bird feeders to help get rid of unwanted blackbirds, starlings, and grackles.

First of all stop using platform feeders. These are open to all birds with a wide shelf for them to stand on and eat. Numbers of birds can share the platform at the same time. This makes it easy for flocks of starlings or grackles or blackbirds do consume all your food in short order.

Switch to tube feeders. Find tube feeders without trays at the bottom so that these larger grackles  have no place to stand.

Some of these tube feeders don't even have perches. Others have removable perches just to solve this blackbird problem. There are some tube feeders with feeding ports under the perches! Finches and nuthatches and chickadees have no trouble hanging upside down to feed from these. Starlings will fall off these types of feeders, or at least have a very difficult time hanging on to get to the food. Check out a wide variety of tube feeders from Amazon.

Another type of tube feeder is enclosed in a metal cage. Smaller birds like chickadees and finches go right through the bars. Larger birds and squirrels can't get in. This is very effective in keeping bigger grackles and blackbirds and most starlings out of the feeder. It also keeps out jays. Some birds such as cardinals and grosbeaks may also have a difficult time getting in, though. And it doesn't keep out chipmunks.  Check out different kinds of caged tube feeders at Amazon.

Try some squirrel-proof hopper feeders. These feeders have weight-activated perches that close when a heavy squirrel gets on them. Find such feeders that allow you to adjust the weight sensitivity. Blackbirds may weigh 3 to 4 times as much as a finch or chickadee. Such adjustments will, however, also keep out jays and cardinals, too. Perhaps an added benefit is that the feeder ports will close if a whole flock of small birds get on the feeder at once. This will allow only a limited number of birds to eat at a time--perhaps saving you bird food costs! Check out "squirrel resistant" bird feeders on Amazon.

Look for an upside-down suet feeder. These have a roof over the top. Birds must fly up under the feeder and hang on to eat. This is no problem for wrens and titmouses and nuthatches. Even the largest of the woodpeckers can get to the suet with ease. But grackles and starlings have a very difficult time eating from these types of suet feeders. Here are some upside-down suet feeders from Amazon.


Related: 7 Kinds of bird feeders and the birds that like them


Photo of a molting male Brewer's Blackbird eating bread
Molting male Brewer's Blackbird eating bread
Photo by Greg Gillson

2. Change what foods you feed the birds


Don't feed birds cheap mixed seeds! These mixed seeds are derived from the poultry industry where "chicken scratch" is cheap and sold as bird food. Stay away from foods with milo, oats, wheat, and cracked corn. Quail, doves, house sparrows, cowbirds, and blackbirds like these ingredients. Other birds? Not so much. Or not at all. If milo is listed first in bird seed ingredients, don't buy it!

Birds pick through mixed seeds looking for their favorites. The stuff they don't want to eat? They kick it out on the ground under the feeder, attracting grackles, blackbirds, and starlings.

Place one kind of bird seed in each feeder. That way birds won't kick out seeds they don't like. And birds that don't like that single seed will stay away from that feeder.

Like most seed eating birds, starlings like sunflower seeds. But their bills are rather weak for cracking them open. Striped sunflower seeds are especially difficult for starlings to open. This is likely true for other blackbirds and grackles. So, switch to striped sunflowers in your feeders. Save the black oil sunflower seeds for tube feeders that blackbirds have a hard time eating from. Amazon has a variety of striped sunflower seed bird food.

Next to sunflower seeds, most birds like white proso millet, including blackbirds. If your problem with these large bully black birds is seasonal, put off feeding bird seed with millet during the season they invade.

Safflower is a seed with a hard shell. Cardinals and chickadees will eat safflower. Grackles and starlings will probably leave it alone. An added benefit is that most squirrels don't like safflower seeds, either!  Check out prices for safflower seeds from Amazon.

Niger seed, often sold as thistle is a favorite of goldfinches and small finches. The Grackles, blackbirds, and starlings don't like it. Check today's price for Niger seed from Amazon.

Consider a nectar feeder for hummingbirds and orioles. Blackbirds won't bother.

If you feed suet, try plain suet without nuts, seeds, or fruit. Starlings aren't supposed to like plain suet as much. But it will still appeal to woodpeckers. And remember the upside-down suet feeder we discussed in the previous subheading. I never knew there were so many varieties of suet. Check them here at Amazon!

Photo of male Red-winged Blackbird eating from suet feeder
Male Red-winged Blackbird at suet feeder
Photo by Greg Gillson

Getting rid of grackles, starlings and blackbirds--and keeping them away--may be about what not to feed them. Have you noticed that these birds hang around the dumpsters at McDonalds and other fast food restaurants? If you want to keep these birds away--don't feed them kitchen scraps!

Don't feed birds bread. They'll eat it. It fills them up. But they don't get much nutrition from it. This includes crackers, tortillas, cake, and other wheat flower products.

Don't feed birds meat scraps. It invites the wrong kind of birds,... and rodents.

If these pest birds are using your bird baths, you might want to consider letting the bird bath go empty for a while. At least until you see if the changes to feeders and foods start to work.


Related: Sunflower seeds and white proso millet attract the most birds! What birds like what kind of bird foods.

3. Change the bird houses in your yard


This and the next tip are specifically for keeping starlings from nesting in your yard.

Starlings are notorious for taking over nest boxes from other cavity nesting species. The largest nest box entry hole size should be 1-1/2 inches in diameter. This allows bluebirds to nest. Barely. Sometimes starlings can still squeeze in.

If you don't live in the country next to large open pastures, you probably don't have bluebirds. In this case, go down to an entry hole size of 1-1/4 inches. Wrens and chickadees will still be able to nest.

Starlings can enlarge the entry hole if the wood is soft. Woodpeckers might too. When the woodpeckers enlarge the entry hole, the starlings chase away the woodpeckers! You can buy metal entry hole guards that birds can't enlarge. Here are some examples of hole protectors at Amazon.

Remove perches from nest boxes. Smaller birds don't need perches. Perches allow predators (including starlings) to hang on the nest box. It makes it easier for them to get at the eggs or nestlings inside. A perch will make it easier for starlings to land and enlarge the entrance hole.

Photo of a breeding plumage European Starling drinking from bird bath
Breeding plumage European Starling at bird bath
Photo by Greg Gillson
If you have a larger tree with hollow branches or trunk, starlings will nest there, too. I would keep the tree up for other cavity nesting birds. Only one pair of starlings is likely to nest in your yard. Maybe.

Before I'd chop down a tree I would try changing the foods and feeders first, as specified above. You might try some netting, though, especially if the starlings are eating fruit from your tree.

4. Do some home maintenance


This tip is for European Starlings and House Sparrows. They nest inside your home. They get in through vents and holes in your siding.

Make sure you don't have any gaps or holes in your siding. Repair any trim that exposes any cracks or seams. Add new screens to ventilation holes if they are missing, torn, or damaged. Basically, screen off or block any holes. This will keep out starlings and house sparrows as well as rodent pests.

Common Grackles build bulky nests in conifer trees--dense spruce or other similar small trees. The Boat-tailed and Great-tailed Grackles as well as Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds nest in marshes and aren't usually in residential areas in summer. Of course, that is unless you live near a marsh or wetland!

Photo of a male Great-tailed Grackle on a red wood picnic table
Great-tailed Grackle on a lake shore picnic table
Photo by Greg Gillson



I conclude with this video from Wild Birds Unlimited that is right on!


Perfect YouTube video! Grackles, starlings, red-winged blackbirds. Each type of feeder.



That's about it then. Change your food and feeders to make it harder for these bigger birds to feed from. Seal up any potential nest sites in your home for starlings.

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