European starlings are an introduced species of medium-sized songbird that first came to the United States in the 1890s. While some people appreciate the starlings' sleek black beauty and uncanny adaptability, the birds' aggressive behaviour and sheer numbers make them a nuisance at bird feeders where they bully other species and hog the food. If you have a small feeder, hang it so it teeters when a heavy bird like the starling lands on it. If that doesn't deter the bird, there are other methods you can try.
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Caged feeders are regular bird feeders with a wire mesh cage surrounding it. The 1 1/2-inch mesh allows access to smaller birds but keeps out squirrels and larger birds like starlings and grackles. Chickadees, finches, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers can still eat at a caged feeder. Platform, suet and tube feeders are suitable for use as caged feeders.
Tubular Feeders with Short or No Perches
Shortening or removing the perches on tubular feeders makes it difficult for starlings to feed from them. Most songbirds do not need a perch to access the seed from these feeders. Reducing the perch length to about 5/8th-inch long allows small birds such as goldfinches, pines siskins, chickadees and titmice to use the feeder but not larger birds like starlings.
Feeders that require birds to hang upside down deter starlings because they have trouble clinging and feeding in that position. Tube feeders with perches above the seed ports and suet feeders both come in "upside-down" models. These feeders pose no problem for woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and other small birds.
Tension or Weight Balancing Feeder
Tension or weight balancing feeders operate by closing the seed port when too much weight is placed on the perch. You can adjust the feeders to allow smaller birds to perch and feed yet prevent birds just a few ounces heavier to reach the seed. Starlings typically weigh about 85.1gr, so using this type of feeder excludes similar-sized birds such as cardinals from feeding, but it allows smaller birds like chickadees -- which usually weigh less than an ounce -- full access to dinner.
No matter what bird feeder you use, filling it with food that starlings do not like is your best bet at keeping them away. Rather than using seed mixtures, use black-oil sunflower, niger or safflower seeds. Black-oil sunflower seeds are a favourite food for songbirds, but starlings have difficulty cracking them open. Safflower seeds attract cardinals, finches, chickadees, titmice, jays, wrens, downy woodpeckers and nuthatches. Niger thistle seed is a favourite of finches, pine siskins, redpolls, doves, juncos, and sparrows.
- Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife; Living with Wildlife -- Starlings; Russell Link
- University of Kentucky Extension; Managing Urban Pest Bird Problems in Kentucky; Thomas G. Barnes, et al.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Choosing a Bird Feeder
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: For the Birds
- Shaw Creek Bird Supply; Discouraging Certain Birds at Feeders; 2003
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images