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! They 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 to 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.


  1. Great ideas. I am still trying different feeds and feeders. Must be a lean winter though, the blackbirds & grackles never used to eat the safflower, but the last month they have eaten everything I put out there. They have even been working hard trying to get into the caged feeders. Maybe as summer comes, things will return to normal. Thanks for the advice!

    1. They must really be hungry to eat the hard safflower seeds!

      You've got caged feeders for some seeds. You may try smaller white millet in more open feeders. These seeds are usually too small for the larger blackbirds, grackles, and starlings.

      They may soon break up out of winter flocks and into breeding pairs. They may not be such a nuisance then.

  2. Rew Winged Blackbirds are also eating the safflower seeds, the grape jelly we put out for the Orioles and are now trying to get at the nectar from the hummingbird feeders.

    1. Wow. They sound like they're being a nuisance.

      I can only suggest patience and wait for them to begin nesting and perhaps leave your feeders alone.

      You are doing all the right things.

  3. I currently have 3 upside-down suet feeders in which I only put "woodpecker suet". My problem Starlings and Blue jays have learned how to grab and hang upside down and feast. Very frustrating because they scare away others when their mobs show up.

    1. Oh, that is too bad! I have an upside down suet feeder (and a regular suet cage). The Steller's Jays try, bat can't really get much from the suet feeder. There is one Starling that hangs on a bit better than others. Still, the upside-down suet feeder seems to work pretty good for them.

      Is one of you suet feeders better at deterring the undesirable birds? Perhaps just keep that one up.

      Or, stop feeding suet for the summer. I've noticed that chickadees, nuthatches, and other smaller birds have pretty much left my suet feeders right now. They'll be back in September.

  4. I have finally come up with the solution. It works 100% of the time and it's so simply you wouldn't believe it. It's not a cage feeder and has no moving parts. I originally made it to keep grackles away from the meal worm feeder for the blue birds but I'm also now using it on the small bird feeder. You'll have to make it yourself as AFAIK nothing like it on the market. It's extremely easy to make.

    1. You teased us, but didn't tell us what it is!

    2. Keep your comments to yourself! Oh, what am I saying, you did keep your comment to yourself, or at least the most important part of your comment! The 100% guaranteed solution you swore would work and then proceeded to completely ignore telling us, your audience. You pud!

  5. Believe it or not my husband and I literally made it so hard for the starlings they eventually gave up. Now the grackles are here. Will harrass them too and see if it works again

    1. That might be entertaining for the neighbors to watch!

  6. So much for blackbirds won't eat safflower seeds! They seem to enjoy it as much as black oil sunflower seeds. I generally have 15-20 cardinals at my feeders, that is until the blackbirds fly in!

    1. Oh no! You may need a feeder with a weight-sensitive perch. That way only one or two larger birds at a time can eat at the feeder.

  7. Regarding commentary by:
    "Anonymous June 13, 2021 at 1:58 PM,"
    as to how to keep grackles out of mealworm feeders, was that secret solution ever disclosed to you? If yes and you have shared that solution within another one of your articles, could you forward that article's link to me, Greg? I'd love to know that remedy as well!

    1. No, Barry, that person who teased a solution never re-posted.

      A caged bird feeder can work. Try to find one for suet or even meal worms.

      But here's what I found on Amazon:

      A caged bird feeder for suet or meal worms designed to keep out starlings and grackles.

      By Erva meal worm barrier guard feeder:

      Amazon affiliate link:

    2. The problem with those feeders, are in line with other articles I’ve read.. They will prevent cardinals and Groesbeaks. We have mating cardinals here all year round and i don’t want to prevent them from eating. As for food changes, I’ll try the striped sunflower seed that grackles have major difficulty cracking open. Also, seems as though the safflower seed is a bust to prevent grackles.

    3. Yes, the cage will prevent cardinals and grosbeaks from reaching the food, as you said. Safflower didn't work? Drat!

  8. Thank you this is all GREAT info.
    Question I would like to keep the few blue jay's and cardnels that we have will they eat from the upside down feeders or do I need to get something special for them that the grackles won't eat from?

    1. Jays and cardinals will have difficulty with upside down feeders.

      Cardinals will eat safflower seeds which grackles aren't supposed to like very well.

  9. I would suggest looking at Duncraft also, they have many different feeders, some only will let small birds in. Plus, they are based in the USA and many of their own products are made in the USA.
    I am going to try the safflower seeds, we started having a problem with Starlings about a week ago, they are chasing the little birds away. But, we have cardinals also, trying to find a way to keep them while getting the Starlings to go.

    1. Thank you for your tips. I'd be interested in hearing the results of your safflower experiment in discouraging starlings while continuing to encourage the cardinals.

  10. Great ideas all! thanks for posting this.

    I am seriously thinking of a slingshot, maybe ice cubes for the ammo? Too sting only, not to kill. But I want them to be a tad wary of this particular yard.

    Anyone ever try scarecrows, or noise making machines? I played the calls of a hawk through my loudspeakers, but that didn't seem to phase them much.

  11. Thank you for all of your great information! I am just starting birdfeeding for the winter cause I live where it snows. Today I watched a squirrel trying his best to get in my cheap tube feeder. He chewed away the tree perch I added for birds and pulled it out. But he couldn't get much food. You know why? I have the tube on a tree not hanging to long with the string so he has to hang upside down while swinging. And then I did not follow it, but only to two bottom layers almost to the third level. Now this is a big squirrel. But the access to the bottom holes are difficult for him while swinging and stretching 🤣

  12. Also to add: I have a hopper type metal feeder also that closes with pressure. He hung on that also upside down and was able to get some food from the shutter cause bird crumbs were on it. And also some from the holes before it shuts. It is a small one but the birds like it. It took overnight for the birds to come as I put them out last night. I am so happy. I had made one from dollar store material and they didn't come at all. Plus I had cheap food with mostly fillers and I read one of the articles here. So I returned them and got the food with fruits and buts mix and they love it. I will put more types up as I will continue to make my own just have it placed all over my lawn and sees what happens. I always kept water for the animals in many spots of my yard so they good on that. I love the blue Jays so I am hoping they come cause they always around I want to feed them too!


January 2023: Thank you so much for visiting! I am working on a YouTube channel on birds and bird watching. Check it out here:


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