Last Updated on October 9, 2020 by Nancie
Common Grackles and European Starlings can be a nuisance on suet feeders, especially in late winter and spring. Since I’ve switched to using upside-down suet feeders, they usually don’t cause too much of a problem. But sometimes grackles can still get a little crazy. They can’t hang from feeders for long, but if there is a little flock of them, they can take turns. Lots of little bits of time dangling on a feeder can add up and they are aggressive toward other birds. But I have a trick to keep nuisance birds off suet on poles!
I hang my suet feeders on two dual shepherd’s hook poles. Each pole has a long raccoon barrel baffle on it. The baffled poles keep squirrels and raccoons out. This has worked beautifully and I highly recommend it. Between that and using upside-down suet feeders, 95% of the suet is eaten by woodpeckers and other clinging birds.
Baffle Top As Staging Spot
Grackles and starlings don’t get a lot of the suet but when they focus on getting into a feeder, they scare other birds off. Watching them on the pole in my back yard, I realized they were using the the barrel baffle’s flat top as a staging spot.
They would fly to the baffle and then jump up from there to grab the suet feeder’s bottom grille. Instead of having to either fly directly to the feeder’s bottom or fly up from the ground below, they only had to jump up a foot or less.
The Trick to Protect Suet
The trick to stop it? I cut the tip off a very small cone and placed it on top of the barrel baffle so the pole comes through the cut off top. Now instead of a flat landing spot, there is a smooth sloped shape.
Most clinging birds don’t usually sit on the baffle top. They are more likely to fly right to the feeder or cling briefly to the pole and then leap to the feeder.
Small birds like chickadees and wrens can still stand on the baffle but larger birds like starlings and grackles can’t fit easily. This mostly blocks Blue Jays out too unfortunately, but I feed them lots of peanuts so I think they’ll forgive me.
The starlings and grackles though? Maybe not. As soon as the cone went up on the pole, the grackles and starlings that were consistently obnoxious on the feeders left. Only one larger grackle of the group seems able to get onto the feeder by flying straight up to it. I’ve only seen him on it twice briefly in the past two days. The rest have mostly left the yard. (Grackles are smart. They come back periodically to see if things have changed back again.)
Other suet feeder regulars seem fine with the change. The same day it was visited by Downy Woodpeckers, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, White-Breasted Nuthatches and Carolina Chickadees. A chickadee dropped a piece of suet on the cone edge and jumped down to pick it up before flying off. No worries.
Will This Work Forever?
Will this solve the issue forever? Maybe not. Grackles and starlings are very tenacious. Grackles in particular seem very smart. If there is something they want, these birds work hard to try and get it.
So it is possible they will find a workaround. Or maybe with practice, more of them will learn to fly straight to the feeder’s bottom grille. But adding the cone did make an immediate difference in my yard. It was also quick and easy and costs almost nothing. So even if it doesn’t last forever, it was worth doing.
Baffle Placement Matters Too
I also have another set of suet feeders on another pole in the front yard. I will put a cone on that one too if necessary, but I honestly don’t think I’ve seen starlings and grackles on it.
I think the difference might be that the front yard feeders hang lower. Their bottoms are closer to the level of that pole’s baffle top. So grackles and starlings would need to jump more horizontally and only slightly up which would be trickier. There are also plants growing under and around that pole that get in the way of jumping from the ground below.
The backyard pole has a clear area of mulch and grass under it. I also have a pole extension on the this one that makes those feeders hang higher. I think that extra spacing is what gave them the opening to jump up onto the feeder bottoms more easily.
So That’s My Trick to Protect Suet
If you have a similar type of flat topped baffle on your poles and find it is giving nuisance birds easier access, there are two things to try:
Raise the baffle a just little higher or use a longer feeder hook to make the jump more horizontal. (Just be careful to keep feeders above the baffle so squirrels can’t jump from the pole beneath the baffle, which can be tricky. This is where a longer raccoon baffle that hangs lower is nice even if you don’t actually have raccoons.)
Or do what I did for my backyard pole. Use a cut off small cone or a funnel to block access to the baffle top.
Sometimes a fix turns out to be pretty easy. Watch how birds are accomplishing the thing you are trying to prevent. Then think it through to figure out how to stop it. Sometimes you need to buy a new feeder or pole. But sometimes you can jury-rig what you have to correct things.
So that’s my trick to stop nuisance birds from using a barrel baffle to get to suet on a pole. Have you had to make changes to your feeder setup to keep the peace in your yard?
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