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.

    • Elizabeth says

      Home Depot sells a baffle kit for about $10.00. Like a clear dome that you slide on the pole, but it wobbles so the squirrels and bigger birds cannot get on top or squirrels cannot climb up from underneath. The catch can underneath might solve my problem as we are on the edge of woods.

  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…

    • 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.

      • James says

        I put out a small finch mix and the starlings vacuum it up like it’s going out of style. They don’t leave until it’s all gone and the little birds have nothing left.

  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.

    • James says

      Funny. I like juncos but haven’t seen one for years. I always found them to be ground feeders, never saw one in my feeder. You sure they are juncos?

      • Viola Lee says

        I have Juncos and this winter marks the very first time I’ve seen them at the feeders. They’ve been on the ground for as long as I can remember – and that’s more than a few decades.

        And I want to add that I’m glad I’m not the only one with bully birds. Last year I asked a lady at the store where I get my seed what she does about all the grackles and she replied “I feed them”.

        Hah, yeah well, me too … unfortunately.

  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.

      • Loretta Brown says

        annette, thank you for information on the invasive house sparrows and starlings. I agree whole heartedly these birds need to be destroyed when nesting in bird boxes. I killed many house sparrows this past summer, destroyed their eggs killed their young. These birds are destroying our Native American birds. Nothing cute about them. I will continue to exterminate them.

  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…

  19. Bobbie says

    We have a bully dove. Never had one before. He doesn’t want to eat, he just fights any other bird(including other dove) who come near the feeder. Any suggestions?

  20. James says

    I surrounded my tube feeder with 2″ wire mesh as you suggested. Next time I looked out, the the space between the chicken wire and the feeder was filled with starlings. It didn’t even slow them down.

    The feeder is under a dome, so going underneath is not a deterrent to them.

    I changed the seed mix to one that is free of the favorites you mention, and there is no suet. The starlings (and only the starlings) come anyway.

    I am beginning to think that a shotgun would be the best defense.

  21. Rachel says

    Rollerfeeder solved my squirrel and sparrow problems :) the squirrels CAN’T get the food, which is hilarious, for the sparrows they show you how to put a few bits of fishing line on the feeder- worked like a charm. I also figured out how to stop the chipmunks from climbing in on my shepherd’s hooks, I put slinkies on the hook :)
    I’ve seen some juncos join with my house finches and and goldfinches this winter, first time I have seen the juncos…. and I guess they don’t really join, each of the birds chases off the others before they dine.
    A get a woodpecker every so often, seems to miss the pedestal but gets the food in an awkward downward peck.
    I have never seen a cardinal eat from the feeder. Some visit the yard, scavenge from what falls but they never eat from the feeder. Haven’t seen one yet this winter.
    Some blue jays pigeons even a crow visited this summer as well, but can’t eat from the feeder.
    Love the roller feeders :)

  22. Rachel says

    Oh and I should have said, I am in SE PA and have been using only shelled sunflower seeds, and no starlings here :)

  23. Carolyn says

    We have 9 inches of snow on the ground and had subzero temps last night – a record here in Kentucky. I’ve never had problems with blackbirds or starlings on the hanging feeders under my porch soffit until now. I’m using sunflower and premium finch mix, plus a homemade peanut butter/suet mix many birds love. I made the mistake of putting a cheaper mix in an area some distance from the house, thinking it would keep the undesirable birds away.. Now there are more than a hundred blackbirds, and today starlings arrived and started eating from the hanging porch feeders. I am now feeding the cardinals (I counted 30 cardinals a couple of days ago), finches, and other small birds on a table just outside the bay window and on the porch itself, which is very messy, but the only way they can get anything to eat. I also put mealworms there and many songbirds are eating them.
    My dogs lie on the bay window seat and bark when lots of blackbirds gather near the porch, which scatters them temporarily. They never bark at the songbirds eating a few inches away on the table, just watch!
    I wish I knew how to get rid of the starlings and blackbirds. I feel guilty even killing a spider, but if I had a gun I would be tempted to use it on those pesky birds!

    • Lucinda says

      My cat (supervised) provides the same function! Scarecrow! (See separate comment). 9 feet of snow in Boston has made it impossible to clean up seed detritus under the feeder and I believe has contributed to larger than usual flocks of crows! I tried safflower seed but my cardinals left! Between that and the crows I reverted back to sunflower seeds and they came back but they are messy! The cat is the only thing that works but when he comes in back come the crows! I feel your pain! There doesn’t seem to be a permanent solution if we want to feed the rest of the population.

  24. Carolyn says

    The article gave some good suggestions, but right now I’m iced and snowed in on a rural road which has not been plowed, and I have a very long driveway, so I can’t go anywhere to buy different feed or feeders right now! I have enough to last several more days. (Normally it would have lasted the rest of the winter!)

  25. Bluejasmine says

    You mention grackles being bully birds. Grackles aren’t in the blackbird family and their habits are not anything like blackbirds. Grackles are in the Icterid family with orioles and other medium sized songbirds. Their numbers are dwindling due to habitat loss. Grackles are welcome at my feeders as they do not bother other birds in the least.

  26. Elizabeth says

    My dad used to use a good slingshot to scare away squirrels on the bird feeder or the bully birds. In one home, I had a second floor deck so I hung the feeders from a high tree limb. It solved a lot of problems.

  27. Marielle says

    I have a huge flock of Red Winged Blackbirds that move around the area, but there are a few of them that are regulars at my feeders which don’t bother me. One thing to watch out for, that I learned about this year, are the Rusty Blackbirds that are frequently mixed in with blackbird flocks. They are declining rapidly, so if you have blackbirds and plan on ‘controlling’ them, make sure you look out for these rarities!

  28. Lucinda says

    fed songbirds for years until last years when large flock of crows and starlings moved in. They are already back this year. I tried safflower and nijer but no finches and had a year without my cardinals until I brought back the sunflower seeds.
    I have no problem feeding doves, jays and sparrows or even starlings and grackles but crows are vicious. The only thing that keeps them at bay is my elderly cat! He is old and slow and well known to the smaller birds. His time on the porch is closely overseen by me. He is never out alone because of the birds who feed happily close by. All but the crows who are terrified of him! Thankfully!

  29. Sandy says

    I have tried everything mentioned except the full proof suet feeder suggested. The blackbirds and grackles eat any seed in any type of feeder. I too bang on windows and they come back as soon as I leave. Not to discriminate, but it is cost prohibitive and messy. They have their own house feeder with corn, but they come to the deck and eat thistle and safflower seed.

  30. MJ says

    I have problems with territorial mockingbirds. They sit and chas off any bird from the feeder. I hand Mylar streamers or old CD’s from my feeder and bring in suet and ny food with berries. Seems to deter them during nesting season.

  31. Jason says

    Got my first Suet protector/starling repeller feeder. Within 2 days, the Starlings were hanging upside down eating from it. The feeder forces birds to have to hang upside down to eat as advertised, but the Starlings figured it out pretty quickly. Nothing keeps those things away.

Add a Comment