Last Updated on October 9, 2020 by Nancie
Do you need to protect suet feeders from European Starlings? I’ve got several strategies for protecting suet feeders from starlings. Two involve tweaking traditional cage suet feeders and two more require a different type of suet feeder.
Starlings on Suet Feeders
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 traditional style 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. So how do you protect your suet from being totally eaten by starlings?
Option 1: Cut Up the Suet Block
The first strategy was one 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 like 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.
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 was not a complete fix, but it helped a lot. It does mean that you need to re-fill the suet feeder more often.
Option 2: Hang Suet Upside Down
I then read about another solution to protect suet from starlings. This approach lets you put out the whole suet block. To do it, you peel the thin plastic top cover off a purchased suet block. Leave the suet inside the package’s thicker plastic bottom and sides. Put the whole thing in a traditional style 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.
Yes, starlings will figure this out, but again, they can’t stay on for endless periods of time. They are less likely to completely dominate the suet.
When I was using cage-style suet feeders, I had several 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).
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 used the plastic layer 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 completely unprotected ones. Or at least it doesn’t happen as quickly.
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 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.
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.
Option 4: A Suet Cage Inside A Cage Feeder
This year I am trying out yet another way to protect suet from starlings and grackles, an Erva Starling Proof Suet Feeder. This feeder is designed more like a double-wide traditional suet feeder but with an extra cage wrapped around it.
The openings in the outer cage are too small to allow large birds like starlings, grackles and jays to get in. Smaller suet eating birds like Downy Woodpeckers, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmouses have no problems with it. The openings are too small for larger woodpeckers like Red-Bellies or Pileated Woodpeckers though.
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