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 birdsLinda Flickinger
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.

George Harrison
George Harrison is an expert about feeding and attracting birds and avian behavior.