Starling Proofing Suet Feeders

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Suet Feeders
Suet Feeders Protected with Plastic

Do you need to protect suet feeders from European Starlings? Most of the year, I don’t see starlings in my yard, but winter snows and cold springs bring all kinds of birds to feeders, including starlings. They are pretty birds if you take the time to look at them closely . . . but they can be a real pain when they latch onto suet feeders.

In my experience, most birds sit on or next to a suet feeder and eat for a few minutes. Starlings however settle on top of a suet cage and eat and eat and eat until the suet is gone. They won’t move, except maybe for a squirrel, so other birds get nothing.

One third of a Block (Slightly Nibbled) of Suet in a Suet Cage Feeder
One third of a Block of Suet (a Bit Nibbled) in a Suet Cage Feeder

Option 1: Cut Up the Suet Block

I’ve got a few strategies for protecting suet feeders from starlings. Two involve tweaking cage suet feeders and the third is to use a different type of suet feeder.

The first strategy I discovered by accident. I noticed that when there is only an inch or two of suet left in the bottom of a suet cage dangling by a chain, starlings have more trouble settling in to eat it all.

Starlings typically like to sit on top of the suet feeder rather than cling. And if they do cling, they don’t really want to hang upside down. They can still get to it but because they can’t really get comfortable, they don’t sit there nearly as long.

Cutting a Suet Block into Thirds
Cutting a Suet Block into Thirds

So I started cutting purchased suet blocks into narrow thirds. I only put a third into the bottom of the dangling cage at a time. This is not a complete fix, but it helps a lot. It does mean that you need to re-fill the suet feeder more often.

Peeling Open a Commercial Suet Block and Discarding Only the Top Liner
Peeling Open a Commercial Suet Block and Discarding Only the Top Liner

Option 2: Hang Suet Upside Down

I then read about another solution to protect suet from starlings. This time, you peel off the thin plastic top cover on purchased suet blocks. Leave the suet inside the package’s thicker plastic bottom and sides. Put the whole thing in the suet cage feeder.

Dangling Plastic Protected Suet Cage Feeder
Dangling Plastic Protected Suet Cage Feeder

Hang the suet cage on its side so that the exposed surface faces down. (See picture above.) In this position, starlings have a harder time getting to the suet. More agile birds like woodpeckers, wrens, titmouses, etc. can still eat fine. Starlings will figure this out, but again, they can’t stay on for long periods of time. They are less likely to completely dominate the suet.

When I was using cage-style suet feeders, I had several of regular-sized suet feeders (like C&S EZ Fill Suet Basket) and two extra-large ones (like Pine Tree 1451 Wire Feeder for Large Cake). All of them got the plastic treatment. I purchased hooked chains to hang the feeders from my local bird store (Mother Natures.) These are similar to the Homestead 33″ Bird Feeder Chain).

Wren On Suet
Wren On a Large Suet Cage Feeder

Plastic Helps Avoid Suet Getting Moldy

I offer suet all year long. During warmer months, suet in an open cage feeder can get a layer of unappetizing green or black mold over the surface. Just a few consecutive days of warm muggy rain can do this.

When I was using cage suet feeders, I kept the plastic layer in even when there were no starlings bothering them. The plastic tends to give the suet some protection from the wet. I’ve found that this makes them less likely to mold than unprotected ones. Or at least it doesn’t happen as quickly.

Suet Feeder Plastic Excavated by Male Downy Woodpecker
Suet Feeder Plastic Excavated by Male Downy Woodpecker

Birds Get Used to the Tweaked Feeders

You might wonder how birds that you want to attract adapt to this. I’ve watched birds come to the plastic protected cages for the first time. They usually first try to get to the suet from the top or sides. Most figure out that the bottom is accessible within about thirty seconds.

The only time I’ve seen it take longer was a male Downy Woodpecker who was determined to get to the suet from the side regardless of the plastic in between. Being a woodpecker and used to pecking holes in things, he kept pounding on the side for a while before trying the bottom. When using the plastic covered cage feeders, I occasionally needed to swap out the plastic when the sides got too ragged. (See the photo above.)

Squirrels on Tweaked Cage Suet Feeders?

You might wonder too whether any of this is a deterrent to squirrels. Mostly not. Squirrels are very acrobatic and are willing to dangle. It’s maybe possible that if the chain the feeder dangles from is long enough, it might thwart them. (Although I’ve seen a squirrel haul up a feeder by the chain!)

But in my experience, the only suet completely free of squirrels is in the suet feeder hanging on a baffled pole. I’ve been doing this for years now. As long as the pole is positioned correctly and baffled correctly, squirrels can’t get to the suet.

Downy Woodpecker on Upside-Down Suet Feeder
Downy Woodpecker on Upside-Down Suet Feeder

Option 3: Upside-Down Suet Feeders

The upside down suet in plastic worked well for me for quite awhile. Eventually I switched to using Birds Choice Upside Down Suet Feeders. I think they look much nicer, are less finicky to mess with and keep the suet even drier than the plastic method. These feeders are excellent once you help birds figure them out. They keep suet clean and dry and slow the starlings way down. Put them on a baffled pole and the squirrels can’t get them either.

Also see my post on Suet Starlings and Grackles Won’t Eat?

Nancie

More Posts About Suet

Solving Suet & Suet Feeder Problems

Where to Hang a Suet Feeder

Best Way to Hang Suet Feeders

A Raccoon is Eating My Suet!

Birds Choice Upside-Down Suet Feeder Review

Erva Starling-Proof Suet Feeder Review

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14 thoughts on “Starling Proofing Suet Feeders

  1. I have an upside down feeder that is supposed to defer starlings. I put it up specifically for woodpeckers. It went for days untouched by any of the birds. The moment I put it next to the right-side up caged suet, a pack of starlings descended on it, and devoured it. They couldn’t cling to the feeder but they flapped their wings to stay aloft, and finished all of the suet in a matter of hours. I will never use an upside down feeder again for woodpeckers. The only bird that got anything was the starling. I cannot understand how yours worked.
    sincerely,
    baffled in Ohio (dsshaheen@gmail.com)

    1. Hi D, I feel your pain. It is SOOO frustrating to be putting out seed or suet for certain birds and then have a flock of completely different birds take over. Starlings can be really tenacious about suet too.

      In my yard, it took the woodpeckers a while to learn to use the upside down feeders. Now they use them regularly. Downy and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers as well as Tufted Titmouses, Carolina Chickadees and Carolina Wrens can all cling to the upside down feeders for long periods of time to get the suet and they all come multiple times each day. Birds watch each other get food and learn strategies from each other. So other birds will try using the upside down suet feeders too. Like you’ve observed in your yard, they can’t cling like the woodpeckers but they can flap long enough to get some suet in short bursts of time. They will also hang around on the ground under a suet feeder to pick up scraps other birds have dropped from the feeder. I’ve seen Blue Jays, Eastern Starlings and Common Grackles all do it, especially this time of year when they are probably feeding their young. When it is only a few birds, this isn’t a huge problem because, since they can only hang for short periods of time, they don’t tend to dominate the feeder. But it sounds like you got a bunch all at once and that is a different story. If they were all taking turns, then even if each one was only using it for a few minutes, that would be enough to clean out the feeder.

      Do you typically see big groups of Starlings? If the flock is unusual, you might try putting the suet feeder away for a week or so and see if the Starlings move on. Then try putting it out again and give the woodpeckers another shot at it. You might cut the suet cake into halves or quarters and just put a little in at first to see who comes to eat if you don’t want to risk another whole cake getting devoured by the Starlings.

      Good luck!
      Nancie

  2. Thank goodness I found this. I’m having a Hell of a time w/gangs of Grackles. Yup, bullies all. But this sounds like it Would work for me since I’ve watched almost all of my birds generally feed off my 4 suet stations upside-down anyway. Only the bluejays & grackles seem to enjoy getting some from the top.
    And for anyone who keeps track (I only do for my locals), I’m on the MI/IN border & am regularly visited by Bluebirds, Grackles, tits, chickadees, downy & short tail woodies, flickers, red-breasted woody, robins, Massive juncos, house, golden, purple finches, emerald-throats, red-tailed hawk, short-eared owl, nuthatches, Gorgeous cardinals. Weird, no sparrows. And occasionally a crow will kill one of the smaller species. AND Finally had that neighborhood Pileated woodpecker stop by for a half hour. Guess I had the right kind of dead tree. Thanks.

    1. Hi Kimberlee, Definitely give this a try. It slows the annoying birds way down. Most of the birds people generally like to feed suet to (the woodpeckers, nuthatches, wrens, etc.) are totally fine with dangling. Over time some of the other birds will start to learn to dangle to grab some suet or they might hang around underneath the feeder when the woodpeckers are using it to get fallen scraps, but the annoying birds typically can’t stay on the feeder long so they can’t dominate the feeder in the same way. And anyway, since you are using the suet packaging, it won’t cost anything to try it which is always a plus! These days I’ve switched to Birds Choice Upside Down Suet Feeders which work pretty much the same way but look a bit nicer but the plastic method should help you out a lot I think.

      You have a wonderful mix of birds in your yard. We get some of those down here in Maryland but you have some cool visitors we don’t see. And I’m totally envious of your Pileated visitor! I’ve only seen those in parks, never in my yard. : )

      Nancie

  3. You’re my hero! Great ideas.. I keep a regular sunflower seed feeder, suet feeder, and hummer feeder all hanging on my front porch..plus a corn feeder for squirrels and chipmunks. From my living room recliner, I have constant free entertainment…. BUT the damn grackles and starlings will trash a suet cake in 2 days..adn run off the birds I want to enjoy it..bluebirds, nuthatches and downy & red-bellied woodpeckers. I tried your strategy today.. leaving the plastic on suet, and turning upside down in cage.. and it’s working well.. the woodpeckers are all over it.. the starlings get frustrated pretty fast and leave… I was gonna pick them off w/ my Crosman air pistol but that’s pretty time consuming.. thanks for the tips !

    1. Hi Greg, I’m so glad it helped! I can absolutely relate to your frustration with grackles and starlings. They can drive a bird watcher crazy. Good luck! Nancie

  4. I’ve cut a slot in an aluminum pie tin, so it can be slid over the hangar and serve as a lid for a regular suet feeder. The starlings can’t perch on the top of the feeder, and so far they haven’t figured out the hovering trick. They do approach, but they just veer away and fly off. If they were really hungry they might be more persistent, but it’s spring (April in New England), and maybe there’s enough food available elswehere. We’ll have to watch for a whole year, I suppose, to know if this is a permanent solution.

    1. Hi Jim,
      That’s a really interesting approach. Definitely will be interesting to see if they learn to get around it or if it is a permanent fix. How do other birds react to the pie tin?
      Nancie

  5. The chickadees hardly noticed, but they launch from the ground anyhow. Waiting to see how the woodies react – we have Downy and Red-bellied making regular visits. They tend to park on the side of a nearby oak, and come at it in level flight. Surprisingly, House sparrows (and no other sparrows) also feed from it. (I guess being clever and adaptable is how they got to be everywhere . . . like the starlings!)

    1. Hi Jim,
      I think it is really interesting how something will freak out one type of bird but not bother others. Last year when I was trying to get the House Sparrows to move on, I put wires around some of my feeders. The House Sparrows and some of the other birds avoided those Halo’ed feeders, but not the American Goldfinches. They even dangled on the wires when waiting for a turn at the feeder. I wonder if part of it has to do with how agile a particular bird is in flight. Supposedly it can also have to do with eye sight differences. It’s cool to see how different birds do things. Hope your woodpeckers like it. I’ll bet they will be fine since they don’t typically need to feed from the top. Nancie

  6. Well, the starlings and grackles eventually got used to the pie tin, and resumed gobbling up 90% of the suet. I got an upside-down feeder, and that has slowed them down considerably. Some of the starlings can impersonate a hummingbird for a few seconds at a time – long enough to hover and grab a bite – and one has learned to impersonate the woodpeckers and can flip himself upside-down and land on the wire grid, where he hangs and feeds just like a woodpecker. Sometimes he only gets one foot hooked in, and dangles by one leg, which looks hilarious.
    They earn their keep by providing entertainment, and are no longer devouring the lion’s share of the suet, so I’m content with the situation for now.

    1. Hi Jim,
      I swear that starlings and grackles cause more heartburn than any other birds at the feeders. Starlings in particular are very tenacious. They just don’t like to give up when there is something they want. (And they seem to want almost everything.) I’m glad you are trying the upside-down feeder. They really do help a lot.

      It sounds like you have a really good attitude about it all. Just keep telling yourself that this will pass. It’s really a spring thing. Soon they will be off doing other things and the yard will get that lazy summer quiet. They’ll be back around next year of course.

      Nancie

  7. Yeah, starlings and grackles don’t bother me at all, so long as they’re just another bird at the feeder. In large numbers, it’s a different story. (Check out the YouTube videos on grackles in Austin – “Hitchcockian” is the word!)

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