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This past winter brought a small flock of House Sparrows to my yard. This spring brought a little group of Eastern Bluebirds. House Sparrows compete with bluebirds for nest cavities. They kill bluebirds (eggs, nestlings and adults) in the nest and then build their own nest on top of them. So these non-native sparrows need to go.
You can find all my attempts to get these sparrows to move on in my “Deterring House Sparrows” post. But read on if you’d like more information on one my experiments: a DYI anti-sparrow bird feeder halo. This halo was inspired by the “Magic Halo” that folks at the University of Nebraska devised. If you poke around online, you’ll find lots of people have made their own versions of this device. This is how I made mine.
The Original Magic Halo Idea
The University of Nebraska’s Magic Halo design uses a 30” wide circle of wire hung horizontally above the bird feeder. From this “halo” you then optionally hang four thin wires weighted at the bottom to hold them straight.
The idea is that House Sparrows get spooked by the wire, while many other birds do not. Putting these over a bird feeder can reportedly reduce the House Sparrows on a feeder by about 85% or more. (Note: Juveniles apparently don’t see the wires as a problem and don’t get spooked by them.)
House Sparrow Halo Experiments
I decided to approach making a DYI halo on two tracks. First, I tried making just the halo to see if it would deter sparrows without the optional hanging wires. I used heavy multi-purpose wire from the hardware store to make a 20” wide circle. This was hung from the same baffle hook by additional heavy wire and a hook.
My homemade halo was not pretty and it also didn’t wind up deterring House Sparrows. For my local flock of sparrows, it seems that the hanging wires are needed. (Your mileage may vary here.)
So I moved on to my alternative track. I use 21” wide Erva disk baffles over many of my bird feeders. Rather than replace them with wire halos or hang halos between baffle and feeder, I tried skipping the halo. Instead, I hung wires directly from the underside of the baffle.
First, A Test Version of the Halo
For my first trial, I used extra strong outdoor electrical tape to attach metal craft wire to the baffle’s underside. Random nuts and washers found around the house served as weights. I knew the tape wouldn’t last forever but figured it would last long enough to test things out.
My test with the wired baffles went well for deterring House Sparrows. As soon as the wires went up on the baffle, House Sparrows no longer got on that feeder. They instead started poking around under some other nearby cage feeders to pick up dropped bits of sunflower hearts.
It didn’t magically get rid of all the House Sparrows in the yard, but it did work to keep them off this one feeder they particularly liked. Between this and removing nearby brush piles, I eventually got them out of the yard.
Potential Downsides to Wires
Before I explain how I put this together, I need to point out some potential downsides. Most things you read make it sound like only House Sparrows get spooked by the wires. In reality, most of my local birds seemed a bit flustered when first encountering them. Some reacted by fluttering around the wires a bit and then going to a different feeder. I won’t know how much of this aversion is temporary and how much is permanent until more time has passed.
Some Birds Were Fine With Wires
Some birds were more persistent. Or maybe they just maneuver in the air a little better. They figured out how to manage around the wire within a day or two. Other birds watched and learned from them.
I experimented first with temporary wires, then just the homemade halo. Then I tried permanent wires on this one feeder for several weeks. My constant fiddling surely drove the birds a bit crazy.
But even with all that, most of the American Goldfinches are totally cool with the wire. (They often even dangle on it.) Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens and Eastern Bluebirds were also unfazed. European Starlings are not freaked by the wires (but don’t like this particular tube feeder’s ports thankfully.)
Some Birds Avoid The Feeder Or Are Skittish
House Finches avoid the wired feeder, which they used to spend a lot of time on. While a few have learned to get around the wires, most have moved to other feeders. (But no House Sparrows use this feeder either.)
The White-Breasted and Red-Breasted Nuthatches vary. Sometimes they freak out and other times not. It may depend on the individual. The White-Breasted Nuthatches usually have a particular approach to this feeder from the tree’s trunk. When I switched to the permanent wires, I arranged it so that there wasn’t a wire hanging directly in this flight line. This seemed to do the trick for them.
It has actually been really interesting watching the nuthatches figure this out. There was one little White-Breasted Nuthatch who was initially freaked by the wires. I watched her repeatedly approach the feeder from the tree’s trunk, only to flutter back to the trunk at the last minute. After doing this this several times, she got it right. She then went back and forth a few more times without trouble. I wanted to cheer for her!
So far I haven’t seen any other birds on this feeder, including any of the spring mixed flock birds that have been in the yard lately. I don’t know if it is because they don’t like the wire or if it is because I kept messing with it and the changes made them nervous. But the permanent wires have been up for awhile now and they still haven’t come near it.
Wires on Windy Days
Another potential downside is that when it is really windy, wires attached to a wind-swept baffle could whip around. So far I haven’t seen the wires move enough to be a problem, but I think it is possible. So to attach the wires more securely as a permanent solution, I needed a way that would let me remove the wires as needed.
Creating My House Sparrow Halo
To create the final version of my anti-House Sparrow halo, I used:
- An Erva extra large baffle
- Clear Command brand adhesive hanging hooks designed for hanging Christmas tree lights outside
- 24 gauge wire
- 3/4” split rings
- Heavy ½ – 13 zinc hex nuts.
I got the baffle from my local bird store, but they are sold on Amazon too. Everything else can be purchased at Lowes or probably other home improvement type stores.
Halo suggestions online said to use very thin 28 to 30 gauge metal craft wire. They cautioned not to use monofilament which could entangle birds. So I got a spool of 28 gauge wire from my local Michaels craft store. My experiments with this weight of wire did not go well. The wire broke off in use several times where it attached to the heavy nuts. This meant I had to find the nut on the ground and re-hang it.
I think this wire weight is just a little too thin. So I went back to the somewhat sturdier wire I had used in my trial. It was in my craft stash and unmarked but I am fairly sure it is 24 gauge wire. (Note: I saw a pack of what looked to be the same weight wire at the local home improvement store.) It is proving to be not as fragile as the 28 gauge craft wire.
You want the wires to run from above the feeder down to a bit below the feeder. This puts the feeder completely inside the wire perimeter. You could alternatively run wires all the way down to the ground and stake them if you like. This is supposed to keep House Sparrows out from under the feeders as well. For now, I just focused on keeping them out of the feeder.
I’ve never been good about figuring out measurements for this kind of thing beforehand. So I put a tall ladder next to the baffled feeder and installed the wires in place. Doing it this way made it less likely I’d tangle the wires too. (Note: The wire length needed will vary depending on the height of the feeder, its hanger and hooks; it’s a bit of a custom fit.)
Attaching Command Hooks
I was using a 21” baffle instead of a 30” halo. Worried that the change would make the wires too close together, I used just three vertical wires instead of the four in the original halo design. This allows a little more space for birds to get through the wires. I spaced the three wires evenly around the underside edge of the baffle.
I followed the Command hook package directions to attach the hooks:
- First I cleaned the baffle underside where I wanted to attach the wires with rubbing alcohol. I dried it with a paper towel.
- I peeled the protective paper off one side of one of the adhesive tabs that come with the hooks. Then I pressed it onto the back of the clear plastic hook.
- Then I peeled the protective paper off the other side of the adhesive tab. I pressed the whole thing onto the prepared surface of the baffle, holding it firmly in place for thirty seconds.
Using Split Rings
I needed to attach the wires to the hooks securely while still allowing them to be removed as needed. So I used 3/4” diameter split rings (taken from a pack of 1 1/4” paper key tags.)
- I wrapped and twisted one end of the wire around a split ring.
- Then I put the ring over the hook.
- Next I pulled the wire down vertically until it hung straight and was three or four inches beyond where I wanted the nut weights to finally hang.
- Then I cut the wire. (They hang about 8 ½” below the bottom of the feeder when finished.)
Adding Nut Weights
All I needed to do at this point was add the nuts to weigh down the wires so they hang straight and taut.
- I wrapped and twisted that extra length of wire through the hole of the nut multiple times.
- I used a pair of pliers to crimp the wire ends so there are no sharp ends exposed.
Step Ladder Access
To string the wires, I needed to go up and down the ladder three times. But it probably only took fifteen or twenty minutes to do the whole thing. If I want to take the wires down, I need a small step ladder, but I can simply lift the rings off the hooks to remove them. There aren’t that many really windy days when I’ll need to do this, so I think it will be fine.
House Sparrows Leave!
One Month Later: As soon as the wires went up, the House Sparrows left this feeder. After a month, I did not see any House Sparrows in the yard at all most days. If one did show up, I never saw it on this feeder. Every yard and every bird is different, but in my yard this did the trick.
The downside however is that most birds preferred other feeders to this wired one. I think it is because they had to approach this feeder more carefully to avoid the wires. They could get to the feeder, but seemed to prefer un-wired feeders.
Taking the Wires Down
Between removing the nearby brush piles and wiring up this one feeder, the House Sparrows left the yard. Once they were completely gone for a few weeks, I removed one of the three wires. This made the House Finches more comfortable and they got back on this feeder. The House Sparrows did not return. So after another couple weeks, I took the other two wires off.
Because I have the wire on split rings, I can easily put the wires back if needed. I hope this is helpful to you if you are trying to get House Sparrows out of your feeders.
More Posts About Sparrows
- Chipping Sparrows Arrive
- The Jncos Head North
- A Fox Sparrow Visit
- Deterring House Sparrows
- Brush Piles For Birds
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