This spring we’ve had a small but very tenacious group of Common Grackles in the yard. They were first dominating the Squirrel Buster Plus feeders, full of sunflower hearts, driving away the smaller birds. And they were getting into the suet feeders.
Grackles need to eat too of course, but with grackles, the first day you’ll have one. The next day there will be two. Succeeding days will bring three then five then seven . . . So a change was in order.
Swapping in Safflower Seed
To discourage their numbers from ever growing, I swapped in safflower seed in the Squirrel Buster Plus feeders for about a week. (I had already previously swapped safflower into the open hanging platform feeder when the huge flocks of Common Grackles and European Starlings were moving through earlier in the spring.)
Safflower is a seed that grackles don’t typically like, at least in my yard. After a day of repeatedly going to the feeders to find that the food they wanted had not miraculously reappeared, they switched their focus to the suet feeders, again trying to dominate them and in the process chasing away the yard’s woodpeckers for big chunks of time.
(Note: After about a week, I re-filled the Squirrel Buster Plus feeders with sunflower hearts and put the cardinal ring back on each of these feeders, leaving it adjusted it to keep out larger birds. They’ve mostly left them alone since and have continued their focus on the suet. I’m finding that having the cardinal ring on actually closes the ports better when larger birds try it. It seems to work better than removing the cardinal ring and shortening the perches, I think because the cardinal ring distributes the bird’s weight around the feeder, pulling it down to cover the seed ports.)
2019 Update: With just a few exceptions, most of the birds in my yard have learned to eat safflower, so it no longer deters grackles, starlings, etc. Sigh. But it did work for a few years, so if you haven’t tried safflower, get a little bit and give it a shot. It might help you out in your yard when the annoying flocks come through.
Grackles Eating Suet
The grackles particularly seemed to like one extra large suet feeder I had hanging face-down from a tree limb by a baffled hook. When a woodpecker, wren or titmouse uses this suet feeder, they often spill bits of suet to the ground below, making the ground under it popular with the grackles and Gray Catbirds.
Not content with this however, the grackles in my yard have learned to either make hovering vertical flights up to the bottom of the feeder in hummingbird style or fly up and dangle from the the feeder’s metal grill for a few seconds. They use this time to peck out bits of suet, most of which falls to the ground.
Then they fly down to eat the bits. They particularly favored this larger suet feeder, I suspect because it offered a larger target surface.
This large feeder uses large suet cakes, which I have been finding a bit harder to find. Often I’ll fill it with a smaller suet cake or even a puzzle-work of pieces of several smaller suet cakes which can be a pain to mess with and makes it hang at a tilt as you can see in some of the previous pictures. This tilt makes it easier for birds like grackles or Eastern Starlings to hang on it for longer periods.
Upside-Down Suet Feeder
So I decided to retire this larger feeder and replace it with another Birds Choice Upside Down roofed suet feeder.
The change was interesting. As soon as I swapped in the new feeder, the grackles stopped spending long periods of time focused on this particular feeder. They will make runs at this and other suet feeders at times but no longer prefer this feeder as it is no longer the easiest one for them to access.
This one change has reduced the amount of time they spend at my feeders, making the woodpeckers with their newly fledged youngsters much happier. Just today I purchased a third one of these like house-like suet feeders to swap out one of my smaller traditional cage type suet feeders. I’m really liking these!
2019 Update: Upside down suet feeders are still working very well to slow down these birds. Over time they do learn to dangle on them a bit, but can’t do it long enough to dominate the feeder and eat all the suet. In my yard they mostly leave it alone now. And if you put them on a baffled shepherd’s hook pole and squirrels can’t get to them.
Other Posts About Suet Feeders
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