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How to get rid of starlings and grackles at your bird feeder

How to get rid of starlings and grackles at your bird feeder

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?

grackle

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:

Feeder 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

Seed modifications

  • 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

Birdhouse modifications

  • 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.

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Common hummingbird feeder challenges and solutions

Common hummingbird feeder challenges and solutions

Setting up a nectar feeder is one of the simplest ways to attract hummingbirds to your yard. Being a responsible hummingbird host can sometimes come with challenges, so we’ve put together the solutions to some of the most common hummingbird feeder questions to help you get the most out of your hummingbird feeder!

hummingbird feeder

Why aren’t the hummingbirds coming to my feeder?

There are a few different factors that could be causing a hummingbird to choose a different source of food. Hummingbirds are migratory birds, meaning they leave and return from a specific area seasonally. As they return from migration and end up in their ultimate destination, they will remember the source of their first meals - oftentimes coming back to the same feeders repeatedly. For the best chance of hummingbirds discovering your feeder, it is recommended to have it up and ready before they return from their winter migration. Be sure to research the migratory pattern of hummingbirds in your area to make sure you haven’t put your feeder out too late, since this can cause them to overlook it later in the season.

One thing to keep in mind is that all birds are creatures of habit. They may be hesitant to try out a new feeder, especially if you have been offering nectar in other feeders – a tried and true food source. It could also take some time for the hummingbirds to get used to a new landing pattern or learn the mechanics of drinking from a new feeding port. It may take several weeks before the hummingbirds find and begin feeding regularly from a new feeder. Before making any changes, try waiting at least two weeks to give them enough time to discover your feeder.

Here are some more tips to help attract birds to your hummingbird feeder:

  • Take down other feeders: Hummingbirds may prefer to feed from dependable food sources like existing feeders. If you have other nectar feeders in your yard, try temporarily taking them down until the hummingbirds find and use the new feeder. Once they are regularly using the new feeder, existing feeders can go back up.
  • Increase the sugar content: Try slightly increasing the sugar content of your nectar. This will immediately reward the hummingbirds for visiting your feeder and encourage them to come back. Once until the hummingbirds are regularly drinking from your feeder, you can then lower the water to sugar ratio back down to the recommended 4:1.
  • Keep it clean: It is recommended nectar feeders be cleaned at least every 4-5 days. To clean, take down your feeder and discard any unconsumed sugar water. Take apart your feeder and flush it with warm water. You must also change the nectar frequently - at least twice a week. If you notice that the nectar is turning milky, or that white strings or black spots are growing in it, change it more often. If you notice any mold, take down the feeder immediately, give it a thorough cleaning and follow the steps below to prevent mold growth on your feeder.
  • Change locations: Placing feeders near flower beds or planters may naturally attract more hummingbirds to your feeder. Feeders should be hung or mounted closer than 3 feet from a window or farther than 15 feet from a window to help prevent fatal window collisions.

What should I put in my hummingbird feeder?

The formula for hummingbird food is simple: about one part white granulated sugar to four parts water. Boil the water for approximately 2 minutes, add the sugar, and stir to dissolve thoroughly. We do not recommend adding red dye to the nectar mixture. Cover and allow the nectar to cool before using or pouring into a clean storage bottle. A large batch of nectar can be made and stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. This makes refilling the feeder easy so you won't mind doing it every few days.

mason jar hummingbird feeder

How do I keep mold from growing on my hummingbird feeder?

It is inevitable that sugar water will eventually break down and cause mold, fungus, or other harmful bacteria to grow inside of a hummingbird feeder. To prevent mold growth, hummingbird feeders should be taken down and cleaned at least every 4-5 days. To clean, take down your feeder and discard any unconsumed sugar water. Take apart your feeder and flush it with warm water. If mold is present, you can sanitize the feeder by placing all dishwasher-safe parts in the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning. If washing by hand, soak and clean the feeder thoroughly with a solution of ¼ cup bleach to one gallon of water. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry completely before refilling.

Since mold growth can be accelerated by heat, especially in the warmer summer months, try keeping your feeder in a shaded area. Keeping the nectar cool helps to delay fermentation which is the process that causes nectar to spoil and mold to grow.

How do I prevent bees at my hummingbird feeder?

Bees, wasps, and hornets are hardly welcome guests at any feeder and can be harmful to hummingbirds if stung. Typically, if bees don’t have access to the nectar, they should eventually move on from the feeder to a more rewarding source. Here are some additional tips to help deter the bees:

    • Keep it clean: Make sure there is no exposed nectar on or around the outside of your feeder and thoroughly clean it with warm soapy water every 4-5 days at minimum.
    • Change it up: Periodically move your feeder. Birds will usually look around and find a relocated feeder, but insects will not.
    • Lower the nectar level: If using a dish style feeder, try decreasing the amount of nectar in your in the dish to keep it lower than the feeding ports. This will make it more difficult for bees to reach. Keep in mind that a hummingbird’s tongue is twice as long as its beak so it can easily reach near the bottom of the dish.
    • Get in the shade: If the feeder is currently in the sun, try moving it to a more shaded area.
Bee-resistant hummingbird feeders:

How do I keep ants off my hummingbird feeder?

Although hummingbirds do eat insects, they do not eat ants. The presence of ants on your hummingbird feeder can prevent them from using it, or the ants may enter the feeder and contaminate the nectar which can be harmful to hummingbirds. Here are some ant-proofing tips to try:

  • Use an ant moat: Many hummingbird feeders have built-in ant moats, which trap ants in a small cup of water before they have the opportunity to reach the feeder. If your feeder does not come with an ant moat, you may choose to purchase one separately. Be sure to keep it full of water! If the weather is particularly hot and the water is evaporating quickly, check it regularly to prevent it from sitting empty.

    hummingbird feeder with ant moat
  • Keep it clean: Make sure there is no exposed nectar on or around the outside of your feeder and thoroughly clean it with warm soapy water every 4-5 days at minimum.
  • Change it up: Periodically move your feeder. Birds will usually look around and find a relocated feeder, but insects will not.
  • Get in the shade: If the feeder is currently in the sun, try moving it to a more shaded area.
  • Try fishing line: You may try hanging your feeder using fishing line, as it is very difficult for ants to climb. Keep in mind this may not be feasible for heavier feeders.

 Hummingbird feeders with a built-in ant moat:

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Squirrel Proofing Tips

Squirrel Proofing Tips

The arrival of spring and warm weather signals the time of year when many animals are awakening from their winter slumbers, while others may be facing a food shortage. But no matter the season, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, and other animals that don’t hibernate will all be looking for a quick nutritious meal and will be taking advantage of bird feeders filled with seed.

Many of these critters are quite smart and adept at figuring out how to access the contents of almost any feeder. Unfortunately, those feeders may be damaged in wildlife’s quest for a meal! These tips will also be useful to the many bird enthusiasts living in warmer climates that enjoy feeding the birds.

Location is key

Placement of bird feeders is key in keeping unwanted wildlife from eating the birds’ seed and from possibly damaging the bird feeder. In general, it is recommended to allow for at least 18 in/47 cm of clearance around the feeder. The feeder should be located away from structures (houses, fences, trees, etc.) so squirrels, raccoons, and other wildlife are not provided an easy jumping point onto the feeder. Place the feeder with its bottom at a minimum of 4-6 feet above the ground so it is more difficult for them to jump onto the feeder from the ground. Protecting the feeder with a baffle above or below the feeder (or both) is also helpful to deter climbing wildlife from accessing the feeders.

how far away to hang bird feeders

 

Squirrel proof bird feeders

To offer up even more protection for your bird feeders, consider choosing one that is specifically made with features to resist squirrel activity. Squirrel proof bird feeders can come in several different styles and types, including hopper feeders and tube feeders. The best squirrel proof bird feeders have multiple squirrel-stopping features, like weight activated seed covers, collapsing perches, and locking roofs. Be sure to choose one that is sturdy and durable. Materials like powder coated metal and break-resistant tubes are ideal, since squirrels are known for damaging traditional wood or plastic feeders as they attempt to reach the seed inside.

 

 

Seed selection

Safflower seed could be used in place of sunflower and mixed seeds. Many birds like safflower seed, but other wildlife such as deer and squirrels consider the seed to be a bit bitter and leave it alone.

Another way to make seed unappealing to mammals is to offer feed treated with hot chili powder or flakes. Because birds do not have developed salivary glands/taste buds, the ‘heat’ will not bother them. Typically, mammals, including deer and bear, do not like the heat and will leave the spicy seed alone. 

Peace offerings

One may also choose to feed the squirrels and other wildlife by placing a feeder or simple tray with corn or sunflower seeds near the woods or a separate designated location away from the bird feeders. Try using a platform bird feeder filled with a wildlife seed and nut mix, or hang a corn feeder from a tree with tasty corn cob inside. Many bird enthusiasts are successful with luring wildlife to that location and keeping those unwanted critters off of the feeders intended for the birds.

squirrel on bird feeder

 

Tidy up

Birds can be quite messy when feeding, especially those who only want the sunflower seed and cast the other seeds onto the ground. (Think blue jay searching for that peanut in the mixed seed!) Ground feeding birds are not able to clean up all the seed that has been tossed on the ground, leaving a mess behind. This seed not only attracts wildlife such as deer, raccoon, skunk, and opossum, but also rodents such as chipmunks and mice. To limit the buildup of excess on the ground under feeders, feed only as much as the birds will eat before nightfall or be prepared to tidy up under the feeders. Another option is to not feed mixed seed; instead offer the individual seed in separate feeders. This will help limit the seed cast to the ground by birds picking out only their favorite seeds.

Disappearing act

Much wildlife such as deer, raccoon, skunk, and opossum forage at night. While you may have placed your feeder(s) high enough to keep the smaller wildlife from jumping onto them, deer and bear are great at reaching up and pulling the feeders down - frequently damaging the feeder and the hanging system (high-line or shepherd's hook). The most effective way to deter this night-time snacking is to take the feeders inside at night. Unfortunately, bear and deer frequently feed in the daytime. For everyone's safety, the feeders should be taken in for a few days in these instances until the wildlife move on. When there is no free meal, it's amazing how the wildlife will stop coming around!

Many times, those who enjoy feeding the birds need to use a combination of these suggestions to keep unwanted wildlife from visiting their bird feeders. Be patient! You may need to try several tactics before you have success keeping the squirrels and other wildlife away.

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