There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing unwanted critters eating the seed that’s meant for your birds! Invasive species like starlings and grackles are notorious nuisances at backyard bird feeders. They can be aggressive, territorial, and have been known to empty out bird feeders in record time. Before you wave the white flag, try these tactics to discourage bully birds from your feeders so you can get back to birding!
Why are starlings invasive?
These boisterous birds are slightly smaller than a robin, with iridescent black glossy feathers speckled in brilliant white spots. They might even have an attractive appearance if they weren’t so troublesome! Brought over from Europe, starlings were intentionally released in Central Park, New York by ornithologists in the 1890s who reportedly wanted to introduce every bird species mentioned by Shakespeare in his works. Since then, we’ve discovered that starlings can wreak havoc on crops, are naturally aggressive towards other birds (even injuring or killing them), spread disease, and are a general disturbance to people with their loud shrieks. Mainly ground feeding birds, starlings will use bird feeders in an attempt to extract the seed and toss it to the ground to eat, emptying bird entire feeders in the process.
Why are grackles a nuisance?
Easily recognizable by their striking black plumage and iridescent bluish-purple feathers on their head, grackles are a medium to large-sized bird known for their intelligence and bold behavior. Commonly mistaken as invasive, grackles are native to North America, but have been deemed an agricultural pest for the damage they have caused to crops. Grackles are also aggressive in nature and can exhibit violent behavior towards smaller songbirds, raiding their nests and even killing adult birds, most of the time House Sparrows. Flocks of grackles can eat feeders clean in minutes, wasting your bird seed and discouraging your regular feeder visitors.
How to get rid of starlings and grackles at your bird feeder and birdhouse
While there is no single tried and true method to eliminate starlings or grackles from your bird feeders, with a little trial and error, you can discourage them from raiding your feeders with these bird feeder and birdseed modifications:
- Tube feeders: Starlings and grackles are known for having long legs, and that can make perching on a tube bird feeder difficult. If they’ve taken over your feeders, try putting up a tube feeder and filling it with seed less preferred by starlings or grackles for the best chance at detracting them. See seed recommendations below.
- Upside-down feeders: Starlings and grackles are both large, stocky birds who prefer feeding upright. If your suet feeder is being raided by starlings or grackles, try replacing it with an upside-down suet feeder. Woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, and nuthatches are expert fliers and agile climbers who will have no problem feeding upside down. Scaling up and down the sides of trees for food, they’ll often hang upside down on tree branches and tall weeds to find insects.
Note: Upside-down feeders have been a successful way to detract starlings and grackles for thousands of backyard birders. However, these birds are persistent and will sometimes put in the effort to learn how to feed upside down. If you’ve got stubborn starlings or grackles on your hands, we’d recommend trying out one of the other tactics on this list.
- Low baffle: Starlings and grackles are reluctant to feed under coverings, especially if it’s difficult for them to navigate underneath. Try using a baffle suspended above your regular bird feeder to limit their access to your feeder.
- Distract them with a decoy feeder: Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Try setting up an extra platform bird feeder away from your main bird feeding station and fill it up with a cheap seed blend for the less desirable critters in your yard. While they’re distracted by the easy access to seed, they should leave your main bird feeders alone for you and your songbirds to enjoy.
- Temporarily remove feeders: If you notice a flock of starlings or grackles coming through your backyard, you may choose to temporarily remove your bird feeders until the flock has passed through and found another food source.
Bird feeders to detract grackles and starlings
- Safflower: Safflower is a thick-shelled seed that is high in protein and fat. Because of its thick shell, this seed is difficult for starlings and grackles to crack open. With cardinals, chickadees, doves, grosbeaks, and nuthatches attracted to safflower, it is your best chance to attract the widest variety of birds while eliminating nuisance birds.
- Nyjer/Thistle: Nyjer seed (also referred to as Nyger or thistle), is a small, black seed high in oil content. Starlings and grackles have long, large beaks, making it difficult for them to feed on such small seed. Nyjer seed is most preferred by small songbirds – mainly finches. So if you’re looking to attract a wider variety of birds while excluding starlings and grackles, it might be best to choose another type of seed from this list.
- Plain suet: Starlings and grackles are mainly attracted to the seed and fruit found in mixed blend suet. They will also feed on plain suet but will usually avoid it if there are other more appealing food sources around.
- Avoid this seed: suet blends, seed blends, various types of sunflower seeds
- Entry hole size: Starlings and grackles cannot fit through a hole with a diameter of 1 ½” or smaller. Look for wren houses that have entrance holes of 1 1/8” and bluebird houses that have entrance holes of 1 ½” (Eastern) or 1 9/16” (Mountain) to keep nuisance birds out. You can also purchase an aftermarket predator guard to affix to any existing birdhouse.
Note: Because of their native status, grackles are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which means it is illegal to capture, injure or kill grackles or harm their eggs.