Flocks of Nuisance Birds At Feeders

Last Updated on

Part of a Flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds and Common Grackle nuisance birds
Red-Winged Blackbirds and Common Grackle

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.

Male Brown-Headed Cowbird can be nuisance birds at feeders
Male Brown-Headed Cowbird

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.

Female Brown-Headed Cowbird
Female Brown-Headed Cowbird

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.

Common Grackles are nuisance birds at feeders
Common Grackle

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.)

Red-Winged Blackbirds can be nuisance birds at feeders
Red-Winged Blackbirds Eating Safflower in a Platform Feeder

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.

European Starling
European Starling

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.

American Goldfinch in a Cage-Style Feeder
American Goldfinch in a Cage-Style Feeder

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?

Nancie

More Posts on Nuisance Birds

Fewer Mixed Blackbirds Flocks At My Feeders

When Grackles Don’t Leave

European Starlings: Messy Eaters

Starling Proof Suet Feeders

Solving Suet and Suet Feeder Problems

Starlings Dumping Seed on the Ground

Keep Grackles Off Seed Feeders

Grackles vs Nuttery Globe Feeder

Woodlink Cage Feeder Review


Want to read more about birds? Subscribe at the bottom of the page. You’ll get an email whenever a new post goes up (and only then. Promise!) Or Find Birdseed & Binoculars on Pinterest!

8 thoughts on “Flocks of Nuisance Birds At Feeders

  1. I switched to safflower seeds and while the black birds (grackles and starlings) don’t like it, neither do the cardinals or blue jays that used to go to my feeders all the time….maybe they are just scared of the pest birds but I do get more mourning doves….the pest birds love suet too no matter what type of seasoning in them…..I usually try to bang on the window or go outside and slap my hands….that scares the bad birds away too…I just miss my cardinals, finches and blue jays…I did get a red headed woodpecker one time that really got me excited but again, I thing the bad guys scared them away….anyway, I will keep at it and enjoy whatever comes to my feeders and just remember that the spring usually brings all types of birds back home and maybe the colorful birds are back to their usual food at this time of the year

    1. Hi Brian, I do think that when the big flocks come, many of the less dominant birds back off and aren’t at the feeders as much, but they will come back when the flocks are gone.

      I used to bang on the windows too (especially back when the squirrels would get in the feeders) but I decided that I was scaring all the birds off when I did that. If I instead went outside to move them off, even if in the end I need to clap my hands, the regular birds see that I am the source of the noise and often come back to the feeders right away. They know me and that I’m not really a threat (but the big flocks don’t know that) and I think the regulars understand that I’m trying to get rid of the flock, so they take advantage of the window I’ve given them to eat at the feeders in peace. I think when I was banging on the windows, it wasn’t always obvious to them what the sudden noise was and they would get spooked too.

      But anyway, this is just what happens this time of year. It makes me crazy at times, but it’ll pass.
      Nancie

  2. The flocks keep it interesting this time of year. I have one small hopper and tray feeder that I use sparingly this time of year. Usually fill them late in the afternoon and watch the cardinals. The tube feeders are in cages until summer. I can’t keep them filled right now. This seems to be the busiest time of year for the gold finches. They’re so hungry. Recently purchase a suet feeder in a cage for the Downy, Nuthatch, and Chicadees. I think I’ve noticed some of the flock eating Safflower since that’s mostly what I’m offering in the trays feeders. I’m going to try a new suet feeder this weekend that looks like a log. I put up a small window feeder last weekend that has been fun to watch. So far the flocks haven’t noticed it. Fingers crossed.

    1. Hi Tim, I think you are going about it in a good way. It doesn’t have to be fill every feeder or fill none. Sometimes it is easier to put a feeder away for awhile than fight it. (I’ve done that with my hopper feeders right now for the same reason.) Timing the feeding of the cardinals is a smart idea.

      My goldfinches are in a feeding frenzy too. I’ve got three cage feeders filled with sunflower hearts right now and they are super popular with American Goldfinch, House Finch, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Red-Breasted Nuthatch and Pine Warblers. In my yard, all of these same birds except for the American Goldfinches and Red-Breasted Nuthatch will also eat safflower sometimes and the House Finches eat safflower a lot.

      I’ve just started experimenting with a Squirrel Buster Classic tube feeder with the perches removed and I’m really pleased with it so far. This one has wire mesh over the tube that lets clinging birds use it easily. It appeals to all of the same birds that use the cage feeders. Even though it isn’t inside a cage and is full of sunflower hearts, the only flock bird that gets on it so far is the Red-Winged Blackbirds and they seem more comfortable eating safflower from the platform feeders so mostly leave it alone. I watched a couple European Starling try it but they said, “Nah, we don’t like the little ports” and moved on to another feeder. Yes! It’s only been a few days, but so far so good with this feeder.

      Feeding birds is like a puzzle with lots of moving parts!
      Nancie

  3. Hello. I live in south Florida And started feeding the birds early last year around March or so. I also put peanuts in a tray feeder for the squirrels, Blue Jays, woodpeckers and occasional cardinals to get a loose peanut. Out of the blue all of a sudden all these black birds started invading and I no longer see my Cardinals. I still do see Blue Jays, doves and little sparrows or wrens and red breasted woodpeckers. I’m new to feeding the birds and I used to love it so much but now it’s become more stressful because the black birds are relentless. I feel bad that I feel this way about them but they are squeaky and very noisy and Nerve-racking when I have the door open in the Florida winter time. I have 2 Brome feeders One is a pro and the other a classic. The classic still allows the blackbirds even at the lightest weight. I have a tray feeder with safflower seeds and see the black birds eating them! And I have a woodlink absolute squirrel resistant feeder that is set at the lightest weight and blackbirds flutter their wings and can still get a peanut or two. Last night I almost cried it was dusk and I heard a cardinal. I miss seeing them so much and I am at my wits end on what to do.

    1. Hi Tammie,
      I feel your pain. I’ve been there. Cardinals are fun birds to watch. I love having them around too. But in my experience, they are not aggressive with other bird species so when a big flock of something else arrives, the cardinals tend to back off and wait for them to leave. Safflower works as a deterrent for some birds but not others. I’ve found that Red-winged Blackbirds are totally cool with safflower. European Starlings will readily eat it too, although it is not a favorite. Common Grackles MOSTLY don’t eat safflower but they WILL if they are hungry enough.

      Trying to block these birds via feeders is tricky when you want to still feed cardinals. Cage type feeders will keep them all out and let little birds like finches and chickadees, etc eat . . . BUT, the size of the cage wire openings usually keeps cardinals out too. Cardinals are naturally ground feeding birds. In my yard, they strongly prefer platform or hopper feeders over tube feeders. I’ve tried adjusting the weights on the Squirrel Buster feeders to try and block out bigger birds but have never been successful with it. These feeders do brilliantly for blocking squirrels but I don’t find them effective in blocking the nuisance birds.

      So what to do? I have four suggestions for you:

      The first is time consuming but can really help. If possible, when you see a big flock of these birds settle onto your feeders, go outside and stand in the feeder area. You don’t need to go crazy and jump and scream at them (been there, done that). Instead, just stand there for about five minutes. Sometimes clapping a few times is helpful. In my experience, the flock will most likely back off to nearby trees, hoping to wait you out, but if you stay there for a few minutes (and maybe walk toward them and/or clap again), they usually will move on. They will likely circle back later, so be prepared to do this a few times. Usually what I find happens, is that the big flocks with lots of beaks to feed get tired of this and find a better food source. Even if they don’t, the times between the flock visits lets the more regular birds sneak back in to eat because they are less likely to stay gone as long as a big flock. (During snowstorms, the flocks are more tenacious, but I’m thinking you probably don’t see a lot of snowstorms down there.)

      Second, you might try filling one of your platform feeders with Nutra-Saff (aka Golden safflower.) I’ve tried this a couple times for exactly this purpose. (You’ll find a post about it on this blog.) I found that many birds do not like Nutra-Saff and none seemed to prefer it, BUT in my yard, the cardinals, finches, chickadees, titmice and doves were willing to eat it while the nuisance birds preferred the regular safflower. If you try this, I would suggest buying a SMALL bag of it to start because you might find that birds in your yard won’t eat it at all. Think of it as an experiment. My suggestion is to put ONLY Nutra-Saff in a single platform feeder and continue to fill other feeders with what you usually do. The hope is that this will carve out a space where cardinals can eat without competition from the nuisance flock. Might work. Might not.

      The third possibility depends on what type of birds you have causing problems. You didn’t say exactly what species is giving you trouble. If they happen to be European Starlings, putting a mesh layer over the seed in platform or hopper feeders can slow them down (although not stop them.) This works with starlings because they eat using a gaping technique with their beak. The other problem birds don’t tend to eat that way, so it won’t help with them. I have a post on the blog about doing this too.

      Finally, you might try adjusting the timing when you put food out for the birds. Cardinals tend to be the earliest birds at feeders in the morning and the last to leave at night after other birds have left. Make sure there is plenty of food in the feeders in the late afternoon for the cardinals to eat then and the next morning.

      In my part of the world (Maryland), we usually get nuisance flocks during winter storms and in very late winter/early spring. Then they move on and mostly leave the feeders alone the rest of the year. Since you only started having trouble recently, it makes me think it is likely you’ll see a similar pattern there. Sometimes it helps to know it won’t last forever!

      Good luck! I hope some of this is helpful. Let me know what happens.
      Nancie

  4. Hi Nancy,

    I believe the blacks birds are grackles and cowbirds. Funny it does help to go out and clap your hands and stand there I’ve done that and I’ve also taken a hose after them but I think I scare the other birds, too. Lol

    Some days they are abundant and some days not so much. From what I am reading on the web it is every birders issue.

    I do put safflower out in several hoppers and I am going to keep the faith that I will see more of my cardinals when we change the time and I am home from work to see them late feeding ❤️

    Thank you for taking the time to respond back.

    Cheers to birders and our feathered friends!

    Tammie

    1. Hi Tammie,
      Yes, you have lots of company with this! In my yard, I sometimes get a few really tenacious grackles but mostly they show up as part of the bigger mixed flocks. That is when the cowbirds show up too. I only ever see the big mixed flocks in winter and early spring. They don’t camp out in the yard forever. As it gets warmer, they always move on. And it really does help to focus on that. LOL

      Good luck!
      Nancie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.