Thwarting Spring Grackle Invasions

Common Grackle
Common Grackle

Last spring at about this same time, I had a flock of Common Grackles descend on my bird feeders. While I think they are smart birds with subtly beautiful feathers, I really don’t like their behavior at the feeders. They typically seem to arrive in a group and aggressively go at the feeders, excluding the regulars. They are very persistent about going after what they want and will continue to hang around as long as they can get it. So this spring, I again had to make adjustments to get them to calm down.

Common Grackle at a Hanging Platform Feeder
Common Grackle at a Hanging Platform Feeder

Last year the first step of my solution was to temporarily swap out the sunflower hearts for safflower in all of the existing feeders. My second step was to purchase a new cage-type bird feeder to offer some of the sunflower to just the smaller birds. This did solve the immediate spring problem.

Safflower Seed
Safflower Seed

I learned last year that I need to keep the seed swapped out for a few weeks or the Grackles will just return again in force. (Remember, they are smart; they’ll keep coming back to check and see if the seed has changed again.) But after they have found alternate sunflower seed sources, I can put the sunflower back into those feeders.

This year, after the Grackles arrived and started doing the same annoying things, I again swapped out seed but when the one remaining feeder with sunflower got swamped with birds, I bought another new bird feeder and extensions for my bird feeder poles. Now I’m REALLY happy with things.

In my yard, I serve the birds a variety of seed in separate feeders. With the exception of one hanging platform feeder, I don’t mix seed and even there, it is more a pile of this and a pile of that. During most of the year, I offer hulled sunflower seed in two Squirrel Buster Plus feeders in the front and back yards and in a Nuttery Globe feeder in the back yard. When the Grackle pack arrived, they took over the Squirrel Buster feeders, but are too big to access the cage-type globe feeder.

Grackles don’t seem to like safflower seed, so swapping out the sunflower for that has an immediate impact. It’s interesting to watch. They go to the feeder expecting sunflower, peek in each port in turn. Sometimes they will pull out some safflower and drop it on the ground to see if there is some sunflower lurking under the safflower. It is possible that they may eat it if they are really hungry but mostly they turn their beaks up at it.

Going from dominating the feeders and excluding everyone else, they now are left to look for spilled sunflower on the ground beneath the globe feeder. After the first day, most of them moved on, with just a couple lingering in the yard to compete with the Blue Jays for peanuts, but the Blue Jays seem to win that fight most of the time. They left their pals the Red-Winged Blackbirds behind along with a European Starling or two (both of whom will eat safflower), but while these birds are dominate over many feeder birds, when they are in small numbers, they will feed fairly peacefully alongside them. (Better table manners! LOL)

The down side to this approach is that while many of the regular birds will eat safflower (and Northern Cardinals love it) there are some, like the little American Goldfinches, whose beaks aren’t designed for such a big hard seed. I have four nyjer seed feeders over in the side yard for the Goldfinches, but they and other birds also crave the fat from sunflower seeds this time of year. That is why I bought the globe feeder last year (step two of my solution.)

Goldfinches & House Finches on the Nuttery Globe Seed Feeder
Goldfinches & House Finches on the Nuttery Globe Seed Feeder

This year when I swapped out the safflower in the Squirrel Buster feeders, the globe feeder was immediately mobbed with House Finches and Goldfinches. The White-Breasted Nuthatches, Tufted Titmouses, Carolina Chickadees and Carolina Wrens didn’t have a chance at it and the finches were bickering. (Well, House Finches are always bickering . . .) So I decided to expand my bird feeder collection yet again.

American Goldfinches in Woodlink Feeder
American Goldfinches in Woodlink Feeder

I wanted a feeder that could hold shelled sunflower seeds but that larger birds like the Grackles can’t get into. A plastic tube feeder with multiple metal ports surrounded by a metal cage, keeps the seed dry and only lets the smaller birds get to the seed. Larger birds will sometimes give them a try but typically they can’t get anything from them so they mostly leave them alone. This year’s choice was the Woodlink Squirrel-Proof Seed Tube Feeder.

You’ll find last year’s review of the Nuttery Globe Seed Feeder in this blog post.

And a new review of the Woodlink Squirrel-Proof Seed Tube Feeder in this blog post.

In order to add the new taller feeder to my existing feeder poles, I needed to add extensions to make the poles taller. They are also covered in the Woodlink review blog post.

I swapped the seed and added the new feeder about a week ago. For the first several days the Grackles came by at least once each day (but less and less each day) to see what is in the feeders. Then they move on, giving the other birds a reprieve. I haven’t seen a single Grackle today.

I approach solving bird feeder issues as a challenge or a puzzle. Not everything at the feeders is something I can control, but I try to nudge things toward a balance where the widest variety of birds can get food, water and shelter in my yard.

Nancie

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