Bully Birds at Feeders

Learn how to keep starlings, grackles, and other so-called bully birds away from your feeders.

For those of us who feed birds, there’s nothing more frustrating than a flock of so-called bully birds descending on our backyard feeders. Not only do they eat the feeders clean in minutes, but their aggressive behavior also can discourage some of our favorite songbirds.

That’s why controlling these species is one of the most common concerns among many Birds & Blooms readers. Reader Georgia Wacker of Canton, Ohio wrote to ask for a solution to keep blackbirds and grackles from pillaging her bird feeders. In Steger, Illinois, Mrs. Joseph Kraus says an invading swarm of house sparrows is eating her out of house and home. And European starlings are ruffling Wayne Taylor’s feathers. These non-native birds are frightening away more desirable species from his Bethlehem, Pennsylvania yard.

Bully birds include blackbirds, grackles, pigeons, European starlings and house sparrows. The last three are non-native species and are not protected by law. These hungry avian invaders are often attracted to a yard by the cheap wild birdseed mix or suet that’s made available on the ground or in easy-access feeders. If you’re one of the people frustrated by the behavior of bully birds in your backyard, don’t give up the fight. Here are some solutions that will help you keep these pest birds at bay, so you can continue feeding the birds you love.

bully birds

Avoid corn at feeders, which bully birds love. Offer nyjer thistle to bring in plenty of finches instead. Linda Flickinger

Lock Out Bully Birds
Because virtually all bully birds are larger than more desirable birds, you can adapt your feeders to accommodate only smaller species. Try enclosing the feeders with large-mesh hardware cloth or chicken wire with openings big enough to allow smaller birds to pass through (a 2-inch opening should do). This will exclude the large bully birds. You can also purchase caged-in tube or tray feeders at your local bird, hardware or garden store. Just be sure to get one with the feeder portion located several inches inside the cage, so bullies can’t reach the seed with their long bills.

Outwit Starlings
European starlings have a fondness for suet. Foil them by hanging the suet up and under a domed squirrel baffle. Starlings are reluctant to go underneath any kind of cover and usually will avoid the hard-to-reach meal. A special starling-proof feeder, in which the suet can be eaten only from underneath, is also available in bird stores.

Keep It Clean
Some backyard birders have the greatest problems with bully birds that eat the cast-off seeds below hanging and post feeders. Pigeons are notorious for gathering in flocks underneath feeders for their meals. The solution for this problem is to collect the fallen seeds in a deep container, such as a plastic garbage can or pail, that the pest birds cannot or will not get into. You can make a hole in the center of the container and place it right on your feeder pole.

Selective Feeding
Generally, bully birds prefer bread, corn, millet, wheat and sunflower seeds. To get rid of them, supply food they won’t eat. To feed finches, fill hanging tube feeders with only nyjer seed (thistle). For cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches, provide safflower seed in hopper or tray feeders. If you do this, grackles, crows and blackbirds generally will look elsewhere for the foods they like.

  1. detourgirl says

    you forgot to mention cowbirds. these parasites have killed off our meadowlarks, and most of our thrushes. they get shot on site. they are smart, sending a scout to see if we are watching. they used their tactics in the days of the old west, and that was fair, but not now. they deserve what they get

  2. jean knott says

    starlings have learned to like nyjer seeds and some have mastered hanging upside down to get to my bottem feed suet block

    • Barb says

      I enjoy the blue jays. I put peanuts out and watch them dive for them. My cat is well entertained by them.

  3. Elaine says

    My bully birds are hawks that swoop down on the feeder to try and get the unwary bird. What can I do about them?

    • Amber says

      I have found that cultivating a presence of crows and ravens deters the presence of hawks; this is because crows will actively chase off the raptors that come by to eat your songbirds. I provide a dedicated spot for my crows and ravens on the opposite end of the yard from my bird feeders, and I throw out all leftover food there. They are particularly fond of meat and pie crust. On days when I have no food to discard for them, I toss out a handful of peanuts. The crows and ravens don’t visit feeders, don’t chase off songbirds, and don’t monopolize my yard in flocks. These factors combined with their anti-hawk sentiments make them a favorite of mine when dealing with certain bully birds.

  4. SUZANNE says

    My starlings eat out of my tray. During the winter I give them their own suet made with bacon grease and a lot of seeds their not supposed to like. So how do I keep feeding my jays peanuts?

  5. Kim C. says

    I have tried everything including buying one of the upside down feeder for my little downy woodpeckers. The starlings in my yard merely laughed at my “special starling-proof feeder, in which the suet can be eaten only from underneath” …those son of a guns got under my feeder and “jumped up” about 6 ft and grabbed beak fulls of suet!!! My poor little downy just finally gave up… :(

    • says

      To deter starlings from your upside down suet feeder try hanging light twine from the corners of the feeder. The starlings don’t seem to like the strings touching their wings,but the little downeys are unfazed.

    • Vince says

      I cut out a section of chicken wire and suspend it below the upside down suet feeder using small chain on the four corners. That keeps the crows and other pests fro getting to the suet cake.

  6. says

    How do you keep Blue Jays from coming and scaring all the birds and don’t leave until they have everything empty? I have to keep opening the door and yelling at them but they just keep returning!

    • Amber says

      It’s illegal to kill blue jays, but it’s not illegal to shoot a BB gun at them. They are one of the most stubborn birds I have ever encountered, but you can try to be just as stubborn. Alternately, I have found that if you provide one place for them to eat but scare them off of your actual bird feeders, that they can be more cooperative. Blue jays will come and eat food (mostly the peanuts) that I throw out for ravens and crows….since this is at the other end of my yard from the bird feeders it’s not as problematic if I see them there, and by not chasing them away from this one spot they learn to avoid the feeders more often and go for the raven food instead.

  7. Mary says

    We offer nothing but nijer and safflower seed. Sparrows, grackles, and blackbirds STILL flock to our feeders! :(

  8. James says

    To get rid of the house sparrows I make to pieces of plexiglass. Cut a one and a half inch hole in one and the second leave blank. I then nail the one with the hole on first and the second one over that with a screw. Then I make a little hole off centered on top and tie a fishing line in that and bring the other end into the house and when the both of them get in ,I pull the sring and walla I got both of them. I then dispose of thm. In early spring when just the male is around I capture him. The males are vicious and kill any bird in the birdhouse. .

  9. Evelyn Ball says

    I feed whatever birds come to my yard. I don’t discriminate. They all are interesting in their own way. That is nature and it should be accepted.

      • Lauren says

        So do I, but as my feeder becomes more popular, it is becoming prohibitively expensive, not to mention that I see flocks of big birds scare away the smaller birds who are forced to retreat from the fights that inevitably occur between the big birds.

    • Karen says

      Read about house sparrows & how they’re driving other birds away and kill other nesting birds & babies. Google the harm caused by overpopulation of these aggressive birds.

      • Lauren says

        I like to feed any bird too. I see no reason for discrimination. However, I do feel a bit sad when the big bully birds drive away the smaller birds. Maybe I’ll make a separate feeding post for the small birds that use seed feeders that are inaccessible to big birds.

    • Amber says

      I agree with you to an extent…when dealing with a non-native bird species (like starlings or house sparrows) that have been artificially introduced into an environment, that’s not natural. That’s intervention and requires subsequent intervention to correct. Any birder worth his or her salt will at least chase off house sparrows and starlings…better even to try to kill them.

  10. Brenna says

    Well I don’t put that all that seed out to be eaten clean by a swarm of blackbirds in just minutes. They were all I had for a while, screeching blackbirds- hundreds of them. I would love to see variety but they run out everything else! I could go through my 40 lb bag of seed in less than a week if I kept feeding them. But I’ve stopped putting out seed altogether. That seems to be the only solution. Now the blackbirds are gone and little songbirds sing and forage often in my yard.

  11. NHjunco says

    I’m at my wits’ end. Cowbird/grackle (?) flocks are swarming my birds. hundreds. thousands fly overhead, heading to farms. I see them rising from the far forest in absolutely enormous raucous flocks that tumble overhead to some inland place, and then return in evening. Its bad in early fall and early spring. But it seems worse this year.
    I bag a stick against something to sound like a gunshot, off they go, leaving my regular birds looking relieved, surprised, and finally eating. But the minute I’m back inside, they descend on all the bare areas of this small non-working farm. They wait and watch until I fill feeders. All day they scream and squawk and fight each other. I hoped they’d move on, as they do when the fields around here open, but not yet– and its so early! My dozen mourning doves are gone. I used to have over 50 birds I knew, and many others. What can I do?

    Anyone at all know how to feed ground-feeders like my mourning doves and beloved juncos, without grackles? I didn’t feed for a whole week of nice weather. No grackles, the minute i re-fed, back they came. Help!! sorry going on so long, but its awful!

    • NHjunco says

      oh, also– I used to dislike bluejays. Now I consider them home birds. They’re not around at all anymore…

      • richard howell says

        I like my bluejays, chickadees, woodpeckers, doves and others, but the blackbirds I dislike. They come in groups and eat all our seed.

    • Lynn says

      Try just putting out small finch mix seed (like millet and nyjer). The doves and juncos will eat that but not so much the larger birds. Use a tube feeder too with smaller holes.

  12. Karen Casey says

    I have had my issues with grackles within the past 3 weeks. I work during the day and come home to an empty tube feeder every day in the spring. I do feed the Jays as I think they are so smart and cool….peanuts. They love them and seem to leave the feeder birds alone. I also have the crow family that comes for their daily turkey hot dogs. Backing off on the peanuts and hotdogs now that spring is finally here. ;o)

  13. says

    I have 50-100 white ringed doves, eating me out of food!! Would love to feed all birds, but can’t afford to! I used to love feeding, my small song
    birds, woodpeckers, titmouse, & blue scrub, even squirrels!! I stopped putting out seed, all together, hoping the doves, leave the area! Any other hints, would be appreciated!!

  14. says

    Some of the “bullies” will always be around to eat what falls from the feeders. The feeders themselves are really important. The RollerFeeder is great for just the small birds. The All Weather Feeder with the squirrel guard will bring the small birds. There’s a company in Indiana that makes a squirrel/starling proof suet feeder that Wild Birds Unlimited sells. I’ve heard it referred to as the Fort Knox of suet feeders. It works!

  15. Jeanette Rose says

    I live in Alaska and I have a great problem with the brutal “magpie” they have chased, terrorized, or killed, they even get into the nests and eat the eggs, the birds that would come to the neighborhood are gone, if they do come in the spring they are soon attacked by magpies. What can we do? the magpies are protected here :(

  16. says

    Juncos are driving me nuts all year long. They fly to my feeders 40 – 50 at a time, eat everything in the feeders and on the ground. I have caged the feeders with chicken wire, some wire with 2″ openings and some smaller openings, and wired the bottom ends closed too. Still the juncos get in a eat everything.
    I haven’t found a way to keep them out.

  17. Karen says

    the more I read about the HOSPs that are driving me nuts, the more I think it’s time to buy a trap. Some people even buy them as food for snakes & such.

    • Annette says

      Watch a you tube video of the male European house sparrow entering a nestbox of a native sweet Eastern Bluebird, pecking the babies and the parent to death. Then building a nest on top of them. The aggressive nature of the house sparrow and the starling has led to a serious decline in the number of birds who were originaly here, and are a serious threat to several of the native American species of birds. The English House Sparrow and the European starling are now the most numerous birds in America. They now outnumber all of the original American birds. The you tube video makes it apparent as to why.

  18. Barb Miller says

    I do agree that all birds deserve food. But it is frustrating to watch the starlings eat all of the suet in two days while I hardly ever see the red bellied woodpecker anymore. The starlings have even eaten cat food and leftover fried chicken that we set out for the opposum/raccoon/whatever stray cat that comes by. We’ve watched them do it- whoever heard of a bird eating fried chicken? If I can modify my feeder in some way, I’ll try it. But if the starling is too big to fit through chicken wire, so is the woodpecker…

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