Oct 18, 2017 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, October 2016

Ask Birdsquatch: Feeder Hogs

A European starling greedily eyes the offerings at a suet feeder.
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Dear Birdsquatch:

It seems like I spend a blue million dollars on birdseed every month. I love the woodpeckers and have a nice variety of them at the feeder—even an occasional red-headed—but the blackbirds and house sparrows are eating me out of house and home. Is there something I can do to attract only woodpeckers and, you know, the sweet little birds like chickadees and cardinals, but not starlings or grackles or house sparrows? The only seed mix I use contains sunflower seeds and nuts—no millet or corn or milo. I offer suet, too. The woodpeckers are bringing their fledglings to it! A friend suggested I stop feeding altogether for a few weeks, but that seems so harsh. I want birds at my bird feeder... well, some birds. I hope you can help me, Birdsquatch!

—DONNA F., WINCHESTER, VIRGINIA

Dear Donna,

Many of your fellow bird lovers feel the same way about these feathered vacuum cleaners visiting their feeders. I was going to quote The Outlaw Josey Wales in my answer: "When things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, that's when you get mean, I mean plumb mad-dog mean!"

But that seems a little harsh.

A better solution is to outsmart them. House sparrows will eat anything, but they don't really like black-oil sunflower seed. So don't offer any cracked corn or mixed seed on the ground. This will also discourage the grackles. Use only hanging feeders, and limit ground feeding.

For the starlings, make them work really hard for their food. Offer suet only in feeders with access on the bottom surface. Woodpeckers can cling to these types of feeders, but starlings, grackles, and house sparrows have a hard time clinging long enough to eat much at all.

Blackbird flocks—including starlings—can sometimes descend on a feeder and dominate it for a few days at a time, but they normally move on soon thereafter. House sparrows are year-round residents, so you'll have to keep up your anti-sparrow efforts throughout the year.

You're just lucky that you're not trying to keep sasquatches off your feeders! We're relentless—especially if there's blueberry pie involved.



About Birdsquatch

Birdsquatch is WBB's tall, hairy, and slightly stinky columnist. He is a bigfoot who has watched birds all his life. His home range is unknown.

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    by fluffypeanutcat, Tue, 25 Sep 2018
  • This is a good point. While cleaning mine, I kinda got the impression the cheep cheeps were waiting on me since they started chirping as soon as I brought it outside again. I swear they are so smart. Within five minutes of filling the feeder up, they are there to feast.cheers Cheep cheeps!
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018
  • Hahaha, I love the ending remark "that area will have already been well -fertilized!"I've noticed that there are more cheep cheeps right after I clean the bird feeder compared to how many there are right before it was cleaned...so cheep cheeps do like and appreciate a well maintained feeder and they are worth the effort. : )
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018
  • The storm saying seems true so far. We had as party at our bird feeder right before our last storm... 6 at once but different cheeps cheeps would come and go so there were more than 6 for sure..and squirrels eating with the birds
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 13 Jul 2018
  • I know and do clean my feeders both for seed and for hummingbird liquid. I have a vase full of different size brushes that are only for this purpose. I have friends however who NEVER clean their feeders or bird baths, and it’s gross! I am ringing this article and will have to give out to the few offenders I know. I can’t imagine looking at such mess and not cleaning it, but not everyone thinks resale. Part of responsible bird watching/loving is to make the time and take the effort to do this.
    by Carol, Tue, 10 Jul 2018