Bully Birds

As parents of school-age children know, bullying is a perennial problem, but these days guidance counselors, school psychologists, social workers, teachers, and more, are introducing fresh studies and strategies. And educating children and parents about how to prevent, cope with, and report bullying. I was thinking about this during a chat with a friend in Pennsylvania just the other day, because she used the word “bully” again and again—venting her frustration about birds, however. She was going to try new birdseed, eliminating the cracked corn some of the bigger bully birds like grackles and crows seem to relish.

When larger, "bully birds" like this grackle, start dominating your feeders, what can you do? (photo courtesy of Birds & Blooms)

I do not mean to in any way diminish the problems of bullying among children, or anyone for that matter, but I got to pondering all this. I remember a college class I took long ago (in the Biology department) called “Social Ethology.” Instead of looking at ways that animals, including birds, behave like people, we took the opposite approach. It’s not uncommon to “anthropomorphize” our pets, for instance, to remark that our cat is “in a snit” or our dog is “preening” after a trip to the groomer. But how are people like animals? The class, as I recall, explored things like nesting behavior, grooming, pack mentality, mating rituals, and so on. It was very interesting!

Can studies of human bullying be applied to the bird world, for instance, to bully-bird birdfeeder issues?

  • Bullying is intentional. True for kids. True for birds? Well, the grackles have one thing on their mind, I suspect: get in there and get as much birdseed as possible.
  • Bullying is repetitive. One incident, while unpleasant and/or harmful, is not always a red flag. When grackles swoop in day after day and the smaller songbirds are elbowed out (oops, that’s a human term!), they dominate.
  • Bullying is an uneven playing field. Stronger kids pick on weaker ones. Bigger and stronger birds dominate smaller or weaker ones.

For a good roundup of practical tips on dealing with bully birds (grackles, but also crows, pigeons and blackbirds), be sure to read this excellent article. It discusses excluding, outwitting, and more.

  1. Sally says

    The ‘excellent’ article you linked to did not give any possible solution to the sparrow problem. Any suggestions?

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