Johnson City, New York

 

How Do I Stop Starlings, Grackles, and Blackbirds*?

NoStarling_4c (RGB, 72 DPI, 300x286)no grackles


 

These species can inundated many a backyard feeder. 

Starlings are a non-native species and are not related to our native blackbirds. They are irridescent black with speckles. Their beaks are dark in winter (shown above) and yellow in summer.

Grackles, who are black with a purple-blue sheen to their heads, are our most common blackbirds. Red-winged blackbirds and cowbirds are other native blackbirds who may visit your feeders. 

*While not technically correct, all three species are commonly lumped under the term "Blackbird," and for simplicity we will use the term throughout the article unless specific clarification needs to be made.

Starlings' preferred diet consists primarily of insects and berries, but if these are hard to find, they turn to our feeders instead. Their beaks are not designed for cracking hard seed shells, so they go first for the softer suet cakes, peanuts, and other foods without shells. If those aren't available, they will even force themselves to eat hard shelled seeds. Fortunately, we do have a few tricks to eliminate Starlings from some feeders, and to slow them down at others, so your other birds can get their share of food, too.

The other blackbirds are more traditional seed eaters. They are less likely to bother suet, unless it is of poor quality (ie, filled with seeds or grains), but will devour most common seeds readily.

 
 

Exclude Them!

The most effective way to avoid losing all your birdfood to blackbirds is to physically prevent them from gaining access to the food.  These birds are simply too large to fit through the openings of the cages that surround the feeders below, yet smaller birds fly right through the openings in much the same way as they would fly through a fence or navigate in the dense branches of a bush.

Even the larger woodpeckers can still feed thanks to their long necks, prying beaks, and agile tongues, which can stretch to obtain food. 


These cages will also stop squirrels and quickly pay for themselves in terms of food saved.

suet feeder starling proof

Suet Feeder with Guard

The built-in suet chamber holds two suet cakes.Two Downy Woodpeckers demonstrate.

on guard cage for peanut feeder

On-Guard Peanut Feeder Protector

Fits over mesh peanut feeders to protect peanut pieces or Bark Butter Bits.

on guard cage for cylinder feeder

On-Guard for Cylinder Feeders or Dinner Bell Feeders

A Carolina Wren dines on a protected Cranberry Fare Cylinder.

OnGuardCage (RGB, 72 DPI, 225x300)

On-Guard for Tube Feeders

Because No-Mess Blend and other blends containing shell-free seeds are easier for starlings to eat, guards to protect tube feeders in which they are served are beneficial. This guards is actually the same guard as for the peanut feeder, and fits over most our of WBU tube feeders, making it versatile should your needs change.
 
 

Slow Them Down

There are a few feeders worth mentioning that starlings can use, but which are challenging enough that the starlings may not completely dominate.


upside down suet

Upside Down Suet Feeder

(made in USA of recycled plastic)


There are quite a few books and magazines that claim Starlings can't hang up-side down like the woodpeckers. Well, the starlings didn't read those articles and we'll be the first to say the Up-side Down Suet feeder is not foolproof. However, the challenge of accessing food from only the bottom of this feeder may be enough to keep starlings from eating an entire suet cake in one sitting. So, if you don't care for the look of the cage style protectors above, this feeder may be helpful.


ClingaWing_4c (RGB, 72 DPI, 300x279)clingers only
Cling-a-Wing and Clingers Only



Because there are no perches or ledges on which to sit, the blackbirds do not use these feeders as easily as smaller birds, such as goldfinches, chickadees, titmice and nuthatches. Again, these will not stop all blackbirds, but can be used in an overall reduction program.

 
 

Offer Foods with Less Appeal



There are a few foods which are less palatable to blackbirds and using these in feeders that don't have guards on them can help discourage these birds from taking over.

simply suet

 Simply Suet

Simply suet seems to have much appeal to starlings. Only now and then do we hear of starlings eating them, usually out of complete desperation, but we hear many great success stories from many people who come back to buy more, having had no starlings bother them at all.

Personally, I use our WBU Nuts and Berries or PB&J suet in the caged suet feeder shown above since those suets have the best overall appeal to woodpeckers, and I keep the Simply Suet in my Tail Prop suet feeder for any larger woodpeckers that choose not to stretch into the cage. This dual approach keeps everyone happy.

Bonus: Squirrels don't care much for Simply Suet either!

Whole Peanuts 300

In-Shell Peanuts

Since starlings lack the beak strength to crack hard peanut shells, whole peanuts can successfully attract jays, woodpeckers, nuthatches and a few other species without encouraging starlings. About the only time we see starlings bother whole peanuts is if a woodpecker picks apart a shell and flys off with one peanut kernel, leaving the other kernel exposed, or if a batch of peanuts arrives with very thin or already cracked shells.

Grackles CAN crack peanut shells, so this advice applies only to starlings.

Safflower2

Safflower  

Because of its hard shell, many starlings won't gorge themselves on safflower, though some will eat it in the worst of weather. Grackles can crack the shells, but very few like the taste, so safflower will discourage the majority of them. Available as a loose seed to use in most standard feeders. Safflower has high appeal to cardinals, house finches, and doves, while being avoided by most squirrels and blackbirds.

BIRD TIP :

NEVER offer bread, pizza crusts, or other similar foods. Few songbirds will eat them, yet these soft foods are extremely palatable to starlings and will act like a magnet, drawing every starling in the neighborhood.