Last Updated on September 6, 2020 by NWBirdTop
Want to keep your suet feeder from being dominated by European Starlings and Common Grackles? One way is to put the suet beyond their reach in Erva’s Starling-Proof Suet Feeder. While I’m a fan of upside-down suet feeders and have used them for years, Erva’s method of putting the suet deep in a cage has promise. This feeder allows smaller birds access to the suet while caging larger birds out.
Upside-down Suet Feeders
Here in the Mid-Atlantic, European Starlings and Common Grackles are typically most problematic on suet feeders in late winter and early spring when late winter flocks arrive. They can dominate suet for weeks so that other birds can’t get a turn. (Other regions may struggle with these birds at other points of the yearly cycle.)
Upside-down suet feeders can greatly reduce the time individual starlings and grackles (and some other birds) can spend on suet. Hanging upside-down to eat is harder for them than for clinging birds like woodpeckers, nuthatches or wrens, etc. But over time, the strongest of these nuisance birds can get better and better at dangling. If you get enough of them taking turns, other birds can still have trouble getting access at times.
Erva’s Starling-Proof Mealworm Feeder Worked, So How About Their Suet Feeder?
So what to do? Last year, I was struggling to keep starlings out of dried mealworms I put out for Eastern Bluebirds. After trying several things, I finally settled on Erva’s Starling-Proof Mealworm feeder. This cage feeder puts the mealworms deep inside a cage. Bluebirds and other small birds can learn to slip through the cage wires, but starlings and grackles are too big. They can dangle on the outside, but unless there are spilled mealworms on the cage floor rim, they can’t get anything. This feeder made a HUGE difference in being able to successfully feed bluebirds in my yard.
Deciding on Erva’s Starling-Proof Suet Feeder
After that positive experience, I was mulling over whether to try the suet version of this same Starling-Proof feeder. (Erva’s line of Starling-Proof feeders all start with a drum-shaped cage with a metal top and bottom. Each version has a different attachment inside to offer seed or mealworms or suet, etc. They all have a sturdy cable loop for hanging. ) Erva’s Starling-Proof Suet feeder has an inner wire suet cage that you screw inside the main cage. It can hold two blocks of commercial suet and comes in copper or green colors.
Smaller suet-eating birds can slip through this feeder’s outer cage wires to eat, but not larger birds. So birds like titmouses, nuthatches, wrens, chickadees, bluebirds and Downy Woodpeckers can eat the suet. Larger birds like starlings, grackles and Blue Jays should be blocked.
This also means that larger woodpeckers like Red-Bellied Woodpeckers and Pileated Woodpeckers are probably going to be blocked out as well. Red-Bellied Woodpeckers do have long beaks and very long tongues. In my yard, they cling on the outside of Woodlink cage feeders and use their beaks and tongues to pull sunflower chips from feeder ports inside the cage. So it is possible that red-bellies might be able to reach the suet in the Erva suet feeders with their tongue. But often I’ll see birds pound on suet with their bill to loosen it up. I’m not sure red-bellies would be able to stretch far enough to do that here. I don’t see Pileated Woodpeckers at my feeders so I can’t comment on how they might approach this feeder.
Using Both Starling-Proof and Upside-down Suet Feeders
Because I have Red-Bellied Woodpeckers in the yard year-round, I hesitated on buying this feeder. I didn’t want to block them out along with the starlings and grackles. But my plan is to use both this feeder and the upside-down suet feeders I already have. This lets the red-bellies continue to use the upside-down feeders but sets aside this new feeder for smaller birds.
My plan next spring when the starlings and grackles become a pain is to put regular commercial suet with additions like peanuts or insects in the Erva Starling-Proof Suet Feeder. I will then fill the upside-down feeders with pure suet blocks. In experimenting with pure suet this year, I found that Red-Bellied Woodpeckers seemed fine with it but starlings and grackles showed no interest. (Important Note: Because pure suet melts, only use it when temperatures are under about 70F. Once days get warmer, you MUST take it down. Melting suet can dangerously coat a bird’s feathers as well as make a mess.)
Erva’s Starling-Proof Suet Feeder
I purchased this feeder online several weeks ago directly from the folks at Erva. (They sell the feeder on Amazon too.) It arrives well wrapped with the inner suet cage of the feeder wrapped separately inside the main feeder cage. Putting it together is very easy. Simply attach the inner suet cage at the bottom with a hand-turn screw wheel.
The inside suet cage is wide enough to hold two regular-sized commercial blocks back to back. There is a swing top to the inner suet cage that lets you easily insert the suet. Closing it keeps birds from getting into the suet from the top and potentially getting stuck.
Birds use this feeder by flying to the outer cage and clinging to the side briefly. They then slip through the wire cage openings to get to the inner suet cage. They cling to the inner suet cage to peck out the suet.
A Couple Minor Feeder Caveats
So far, I’ve only used this feeder in the warm summer months but I have noticed two issues with this feeder. I don’t see either as a deal breaker though, especially if it succeeds in keeping the nuisance birds out.
First, as birds eat the suet, the suet blocks start to get thinner. I noticed that at this point both blocks can start to lean away from one side toward the other. I tucked a short fat stick in between the blocks so birds could continue to easily access the suet from both sides.
Second, like traditional cage suet feeders, the suet is more exposed to the elements than suet in upside-down suet feeders. When we had a stretch of hot humid Maryland weather with energetic summer afternoon thunderstorms thrown in, the surfaces on the suet in this feeder got a layer of mold over it. This can happen in any suet feeder, but I’ve found that it tends to be much slower to happen in the upside-down feeders. For this reason, you’ll need to keep an extra eye on the suet.
Do Birds Like Erva’s Starling-Proof Suet Feeder?
So far the new feeder has been a success. I started my trial of the feeder in the summer rather than in the spring when starlings and grackles are a problem. So it hasn’t been tested against that yet. Based on my experience with the mealworm version of this feeder though and through watching Blue Jays trying to get into it, I expect that starlings and grackles will most likely try to dangle on the outside but should not be able to get to the suet. (I will update this post next winter/spring when the flocks of nuisance birds arrive.)
Downys on the Suet Feeder
In the meantime, Downy Woodpeckers seem fine with this feeder. (Note: In my yard downys have learned to slip into Woodlink cage feeders to get sunflower chips. So they were already familiar with cage feeders.)
It does take birds a little time to get used to a new feeder design. Sometimes you can give them a little nudge. I had three upside-down suet feeders hanging on a single pole, so I swapped out one with this new cage suet feeder. At first the downys ignored it, but then I briefly let the two upside-down feeders run empty.
A downy, finding the upside-down feeders empty, sat on one of the feeders to mull the situation over. After re-checking a few times to confirm that the upside-down feeders were in fact empty, he flew over to the cage feeder.
After a little hesitation, he slipped inside and proceeded to eat. Once one bird figures out a feeder, other birds typically follow.
Now I see downys eating at both types of feeders each day. Some individuals seem to prefer the upside-down feeders and some seem to prefer the Starling-Proof Suet Feeder.
Other Birds on the Suet Feeder
As days and weeks have passed, other birds have gotten comfortable with the caged suet feeder. I’ve seen Tufted Titmouses and a White-Breasted Nuthatch use it as well as Carolina Chickadees and Carolina Wrens. The Red-Bellied Woodpeckers and Blue Jays continue to get suet from the nearby upside-down feeders.
Should You Get Erva’s Starling-Proof Suet Feeder?
I would say that if you have trouble with starlings and grackles and your upside-down feeders aren’t enough, give this one a try. While it is not inexpensive, it is solidly made and should last a very long time. It ought to keep the nuisance birds out and that can save you money on suet. If you have larger woodpeckers in your yard that you want to feed, I would suggest keeping at least one upside-down suet feeder for them.
More Posts on Suet Feeders
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