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How do you get rid of a flock of nuisance “blackbirds”? Late winter to very early spring can be a stressful time of year for the backyard bird watcher. You put out the regular foods in the regular bird feeders for your regular birds . . . and a noisy aggressive mob of mixed “blackbirds” show up. These flocks can take over feeders, push other birds out and eat huge amounts of seed. What can you do about blackbirds overrunning your feeders? Here are six strategies to get rid of annoying blackbird flocks of starlings, grackles, cowbirds and blackbirds that arrive in late winter and early spring.
Which “Blackbirds” Are A Problem At Feeders?
First, exactly what birds are we talking about? People often use the word “blackbird” to cover a variety of black or mostly black birds. The big mixed nuisance blackbird flocks typically are made up of Common Grackles, European Starlings, Brown-Headed Cowbirds and Red-Winged Blackbirds. Different strategies can work better for different birds.
Blackbird Thwarting Strategies:
Option 1: Take Feeders Down
Some people take their feeders down until nuisance blackbird flocks go away. If you don’t want to feed the hoard, this is the way to be 100% effective. Put the feeders back up when the weather warms up.
For myself, I can’t do this because I don’t like leaving my regular birds without this up-until-then reliable food source at a time of year when native foods tend to be scarcer.
Option 2: Be Present in the Yard with Flocks
Feed the birds as usual but go outside when the flocks descend. Be present. Don’t scream and shout and get worked up about it. Just stand in the feeder area for a several minutes. If the blackbird flock only retreats a little bit, try moving toward where they settle.
The flock may very well wait a little to see what you will do. Usually nuisance blackbird flocks are not super patient (they have a lot of mouths to feed after all.) If you stand there for a few minutes, they are likely to move on. If they haven’t, then try clapping loudly a few times. After a few minutes, the flock will probably move off. (The exception can sometimes be a rag-tag of a few starlings who can be incredibly tenacious.)
If it is cold, especially if there is a late snow, the flock will probably be back again after awhile. If you do this repeatedly, there is a chance they won’t return the next day. Or they will. If they haven’t found an alternative food source in those periods when you’ve sent them on their way, they’ll be back to your feeders. Rinse and repeat.
Option 3: No Millet, Milo or Corn
If you are offering mixed seed that contains millet, milo and corn that these flocks especially like, stop. Also when the flocks are active, try to avoid broadcasting seed on the ground; it is attractive for feeding a large flock.
If you want to continue to offer these types of seed, at least contain it so they don’t have a wide area in which to spread out to eat, making it that much more attractive to them.
Option 4: Try Safflower Seed
Try switching seed. It is possible that at least some of the visiting flock may not like/be familiar with safflower seed. Try swapping out safflower for sunflower and other seed.
This worked in my yard for several years for Common Grackles until last year when they decided that safflower, although bitter, was still food and they were hungry, so let’s eat! Red-Winged Blackbirds, Brown-Headed Cowbirds and European Starlings eat safflower in my yard too. (Note: If your regular birds have never had safflower, they may balk at it too at first.)
Option 5: Try a Different Feeder
Flocks Like Platform and Hopper Feeders
Try a different style feeder. Open platform feeders are wonderful for many types of birds (including Northern Cardinals and Mourning Doves who both love them), but they are also especially welcoming to the big mixed blackbird flocks this time of year because they can accommodate so many birds and fit their preferred feeding style.
Hopper feeders can also be fine feeders, but this time of year, the starlings are likely to use their beaks to sweep the seed out of the tray onto the ground for the squirrels to eat, emptying out feeders very quickly.
Flocks and Hanging Tube Feeders
Tube style feeders with limited ports can be less favored by some flock birds than platform and hopper feeders. For example, European Starlings seem to have more trouble getting seed out of deep narrow tube feeder ports, so they might be less of a pest on them. Starlings in my yard are mostly on the platform feeders rather than the tube feeders. (They like the hopper feeders too and kept dumping out the seed until I tweaked those feeders.)
Brown-Headed Cowbirds in my yard always seem to be on the ground or in the platform feeders; I don’t think I’ve seen them on the tube feeders . . . which doesn’t mean they won’t, if that is the only option.
Common Grackles and Red-Winged Blackbirds are usually fine with tube feeders though. BUT, you might try shortening or removing the perches temporarily if your feeder allows that. This can make it harder for bigger birds like grackles, while many of the smaller birds can use shorter ports or cling more easily.
Flock Birds on Suet Feeders
If starlings and grackles are eating all your suet and won’t let other birds have a chance, consider using an upside-down suet feeder. These birds do learn to dangle to grab a bite but they can’t usually keep it up long enough to dominate the feeder and eat it all.
Thwart Flocks With Cage Feeders
The feeder style that I find thwarts flock birds best is the cage-style feeder. These are tube feeders surrounded by a cage. The openings between the cage bars only allow smaller birds through.
I have four seed cage feeders that are popular for American Goldfinches, House Finches, Purple Finches, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Red-Breasted Nuthatches, Pine Warblers, Carolina Wrens and Carolina Chickadees. While I use them year-round, I am doubly glad for them when the flocks arrive because they can’t get into these feeders.
Keep in mind that with cage feeders, the larger flock birds can’t get in, but neither can other larger birds like Northern Cardinals. Larger birds may try to dangle on these feeders briefly to try and nab a seed but if the seed ports are far enough away from the cage surface, they shouldn’t be able to get in and will usually give up fairly quickly.
Option 6: Wait For Flocks to Leave
Repeat to yourself over and over again: “This too shall pass” when the nuisance blackbird mobs are driving you crazy. This period is usually just a few weeks long. Once the weather warms up a bit, the bugs will be more active and those birds are likely to be much less present at your feeders.
How are your feeders doing this spring? Are the flocks driving you crazy?
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