Most of us love to see all the different types of birds that find our bird feeders. But if you’ve been feeding birds for awhile you may have noticed some birds are a little…problematic.
They are large, can show up in droves, push out all your beloved songbirds and sit there all day pigging out and emptying your feeders.
You’ve met, the bully birds. European Starlings, Grackles, Crows, Redwing Blackbirds, Pigeons and House Sparrows.
Let’s look at tips for the large bully birds first: Starlings, Grackles, Blackbirds, Crows, Blue Jays, Pigeons and Doves
1. Buy feeders they can’t use
You can use the size of these birds against them and select feeders that only allow smaller birds access. The best way to do this is with a caged feeder. This is a tube feeder with a large cage around it, and the cage openings are large enough to let in birds like finches, chickadees and titmice, but will keep the larger birds out.
This page has some different sized cages you might be able to fit around a feeder you already have. It doesn’t save you much money over just buying a caged feeder, but if there is a certain feeder you really want to use this might be a good way to keep that feeder and cage it up.
You can always try to DIY a cage too if you’re handy. Just remember to cover the top and bottom as well, and keep the cage openings right around 1.5 x 1.5 square to allow small birds in and keep large birds out.
Dome feeders can also work to keep large birds out. They are made up of a small open dish for the seed, and a large plastic dome that sits over the dish like an umbrella. Buy a dome that is adjustable, and you can lower the “umbrella” portion until there is not enough room for big birds to perch on the dish.
These types of feeders are sensitive to the weight of the bird or animal that steps onto the perch and will close off access to the food if the weight is too heavy. These are often geared towards keeping squirrels off your feeder, but can sometimes be used for larger birds as well if you set the feeder to its most sensitive setting. A quality feeder that would work well for this is the Squirrel Buster Legacy, or any of the other Brome squirrel buster feeders.
Upside-down and Caged Suet Feeders
Many of these large birds enjoy suet too. But you can cut down on the amount of suet they consume by using an upside-down suet feeder. Clinging birds like woodpeckers and nuthatches have no problem hanging upside down, but birds like starlings and blackbirds don’t like this. It may take a bit of time for birds to find this and sometimes grackles can get a little wise to it, but it should keep them from just eating your whole block in one day.
You can also buy suet feeders in cages. I’ll mention it here as an option but after reading through reviews online it seems like this is very hit or miss for people in terms of keeping bully birds away. So might not be the best first option to try.
2. Clean up / avoid spillage under feeders
Some bully birds such as starlings, blackbirds, pigeons and doves, really like to eat off the ground. They may flock in large numbers underneath your feeders looking for the cast-offs. Reducing the amount of seed you have on the ground beneath your feeders will give them less to eat, and make the area less attractive as a hang out.
Feeder Pole Tray
Some bird feeders come with attachable trays. Many Droll Yankee tube feeders have this option and are sold separately. Check your model online. However, this type of tray can sometimes just become its own bird feeder. Your cardinals will like it, but so may the birds you are trying to avoid. I had one of these on my nyjer feeder and there was a mourning dove that loved to sit in it like it was his personal couch!
This Seed Buster tray attaches to the pole under your feeder, and this hoop catcher hangs off of the bottom. Again, some birds will use these as their own personal platform feeder, so this might not work for everyone.
No Mess Birdseed
One of the easiest ways to keep excess seed off the ground is using seeds that are already “hulled”, which is have had their shells removed. The feeder birds will be able to eat more of it and won’t dig around as much, tossing less to the ground. Whatever does make it to the ground will probably get eaten up quick by cardinals and chipping sparrows and other birds that prefer ground feeding.
DIY seed catcher
I saw this DIY seed catcher someone had made online and thought it was an interesting idea. Basically you get a large plastic bucket or garbage pail (has to be deep, with tall sides) and drill a hole in the bottom for the feeder pole to go through. Use this instead of a tray to catch the seed. The idea being, birds won’t want to dive into a deep container to get seed because they are afraid of becoming trapped. I have not tried this but may be worth a shot for you DIY enthusiasts.
3. Offer foods they don’t like
There are ways to feed birds without giving the bully birds food that they will like. This often means excluding a lot of backyard birds that you DO like…but if it’s a choice between a flock of starlings or only focusing on hummingbirds and finches, you might opt for having only certain birds rather than an unpleasant mob.
Many bird blogs will say that blackbirds, grackles, squirrels, pigeons and doves find safflower bitter and unpleasant. If you ask around though you will find plenty of people who say the bully birds ate it anyways or they had trouble with the birds they WANTED eating it. This simply isn’t going to work for everyone.
But, it is a simple thing to try, and worth a shot! Slowly add more safflower to the seed you already have until you have transitioned to full safflower. That will give your wanted backyard birds a little time to adjust.
The suet you see in stores typically comes with all sorts of seeds and nuts and other stuff mixed in. But you can buy just plain suet, and this will be unattractive to starlings and other bully birds (squirrels too!). It may take some time for the other birds to get used to this so don’t give up on it quickly. Woodpeckers will continue to come once they are used to it and possibly some of the other suet eating birds like nuthatches.
Bully birds are not interested in nectar. Most other birds aren’t either. Although I have seen the occasional Downy woodpecker drinking it. If you’re getting really frustrated try taking down your feeders and sticking to hummingbird feeders for awhile.
Nyjer seed, sometimes referred to as thistle, is mainly enjoyed by members of the finch family such as House Finch, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch and Pine Siskin, but will also be eaten by some other small songbirds. Larger birds, bully birds, squirrels and pretty much everyone else isn’t very interested in Nyjer. Just remember Nyjer does best in a mesh feeder or tube feeder because of its small size.
4. Feed winter only
Starlings, blackbirds and grackles are year-round residents but they do tend to move south in the winter to warmer grounds. If it gets really cold where you are in the winter (New England, Midwest, Canada, etc) then you might be able to avoid them taking over your feeders by only putting out food for your backyard friends during the winter months. Don’t worry, food is much more abundant in the wild during the warm weather months, winter is when they need your help the most.
Crows aren’t as common a pest as some of the other black birds, but they can be problematic for some. They are attracted to easy food sources, so here are some tips you can try along with using caged feeders and keeping the ground under feeders clean.
- Secure trash – make sure all trash bins have covers
- Cover up your compost pile if it has food scraps in it, or consider switching to yard waste only
- Don’t leave pet food outside
This is another bird not native to the United States but is now found everywhere. They will nest in any little cavity they can find and have no problem living in urban areas in close proximity with people. They can sometimes show up to your feeders in groups and hog food. But it’s those who have birdhouses who find them especially repugnant. They are fierce competitors for nesting space and will evict already nesting birds right out of a bird house and kill their young.
Unfortunately, they are extremely hard to get rid of. They are small like other song birds, so the many methods of keeping large bully birds out based on their size won’t work here. But there are actions you can take to reduce their numbers in your yard.
- Eliminate nest sites: house sparrows are not protected by any laws because they are non-native. If you see a nest in your yard, you can remove it.
- Offer a lot of cheap food away from your other feeders: A pile of cracked corn on the ground will keep pest birds busy and possibly away from your other feeders.
- Offer food they don’t like: Striped sunflower in the shell is hard for them to open. (also see tips above for suet, nyjer and nectar)
- Less dust: House sparrows love dust baths. You might be attracting them if you have dry, bald patches of ground they can dust up in. If you can’t grow grass, consider mulching the area or laying down stone.
- Magic Halo: This is a system where you hang monofilament wire around your feeder. Most birds could care less, but apparently house sparrows are very bothered by this. Here is the website to purchase them, and you will see from their gallery that you can probably make your own without too much trouble.
The birds mentioned in this article can all quickly become a problem if you don’t act fast. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to get them to move along and let the little guys and more docile birds have their share.
If you follow the tips laid out in this article and you act quick enough before it get’s out of control, you have a better than average chance of kicking these unwanted birds to the curb and making them find food elsewhere.
Melanie is an environmental scientist, birdwatcher, and amateur photographer. She’s been a birding hobbyist for years and loves feeding and learning about birds of all types. Over the years, Melanie has identified more than 250 bird species, with sightings of the Atlantic Puffin, Hawaiian Goose, and Arctic Tern among her most cherished.