Last Updated on June 7, 2021 by Nancie
Do you need to protect suet feeders from European Starlings? Don’t want to spring for a commercial upside-down suet feeder? I’ve got two DIY strategies for protecting suet feeders from starlings (as well as two commercial feeder suggestions.)
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Topics in This Post:
- Starlings on Suet Feeders
- Option 1: Slice Up the Suet Block
- Option 2: Hang Suet Upside Down
- Alternative Option 3: Upside-Down Suet Feeders
- Alternative Option 4: A Suet Cage Inside A Cage 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: Slice 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 vertically by a chain, starlings have more trouble settling in to eat it all.
Starlings typically like to sit on top of these suet feeders 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. But on the plus side, putting out small amounts more often tends to mean the suet stays fresh.
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.
Note: Back when I was using these traditional 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 trigger this.
Back when I was using traditional 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.
For more on squirrels and feeders, see my post on Solving Squirrel Bird Feeder Problems.
Alternative 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. Starlings willing to work at it can still eat from upside-down suet feeders but unless you have a whole crowd of them taking turns, they don’t typically dominate these feeders.
Alternative Option 4: A Suet Cage Inside A Cage Feeder
Last summer I added 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.
This is the most effective solution I’ve tried yet for keeping out the annoying nuisance birds. 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 so it is not a complete solution if you want to attract these larger birds as well.
Have you tried DIY methods to keep starlings from dominating your suet? Please be welcome to comment below with your experience or any questions.
More Posts About Suet
Suet Starlings and Grackles Won’t Eat?
Solving Suet & Suet Feeder Problems
Birds Choice Upside-Down Suet Feeder Review
Erva Starling-Proof Suet Feeder Review
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25 thoughts on “DIY: How to Starling-Proof Traditional Suet Feeders”
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.
baffled in Ohio (email@example.com)
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.
Same experience with upside-down feeder
My experience as well.
If you see the pest birds on the feeder and it is close to the house, bang on the windows or open the window and use bells to scare them away. It takes dedication and using the upside down feeders has helped tremendously. I find the birds I want to feed learn to stay and feed when I’m going crazy. Lol
LOL I’ve done my share of window banging. Still do occasionally if the bird is really close to to the window. It can get hard on your hand and the windows though. My feeders are pretty spread out and I’ve found that the flock birds can get a bit jaded about window banging at a distance, so in my own particular situation, I find that I typically need to at least open the back door and walk out onto the back step to startle the flock. Sometimes with a persistent flock, I really need to walk out to the center of the feeder area and stand there for a few minutes. But everyone’s yard and situation is different and you need to find what works for you right? I agree that most of the regular birds seem to get used to the person who is feeding them and come back pretty quickly. I suspect the cardinals in particular appreciate the assist in opening up space for them at the feeders.
Thanks for sharing!
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.
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. : )
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 !
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
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.
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?
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!)
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
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.
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.
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!)
I will try your upside down idea. I securely tie fishing line around my jelly feeders and suet feeders the sparrows won’t come to them but all the other birds will. I love sparrows but do not want to feed them jelly.
Thanks for all the details on the starling struggles. I just got to the tweaked upside down set up last week. Smaller birds are getting used to it, but not many figure it out within 30 seconds like yours did. Starlings are holding on for 2-13 seconds, stuffing their beaks, then flying away. So a lot of food is still being eaten and they still have control if the suet area for a good part of the day. Also, do the red bellied and pileated come to this? Not yet here.
Starlings are the most frustrating birds at feeders. They are incredibly persistent if they want something and will keep at it until they can find a way. The tweaked upside-down feeders can slow them down a little and give other birds more of a chance but do not block them out. I am currently using four commercial Birds Choice upside-down feeders which slow them down, but again don’t completely block them out (separate post about that.) I am also experimenting with an Erva Starling Proof Suet Feeder that is caged so bigger birds like starlings can’t get to the suet at all. (I have a separate post about that also.)
So far I am finding the caged Erva feeder works well for smaller birds. I do get Red-Bellied Woodpeckers on the Birds Choice upside-down feeders all the time. I think they can handle the tweaked upside-down feeders as well. I don’t have Pileated Woodpeckers in my yard so I can’t speak to what they do. They are larger birds, so they might find hanging from such a small area to eat challenging, but I’m just guessing.
I think birds differ in how long they take to figure things out. If a bird has come across a similar feeder somewhere else, they have a head start. Once one bird figures a feeder out, other birds tend to watch and follow. But if it is brand new to everyone, they might take a little longer. And while birds within a species are similar, I do think there are individual differences where some birds are maybe a little smarter or more willing to experiment or just more persistent.
One other thing you might look at is pure suet blocks. It doesn’t seem to appeal to all suet-eating birds but I found that Downys and Red-Bellies in my yard will eat it. I have yet another post about that.
Thank you so much, you’re awesome. Nothing’s black and white in the bird world!
P.s. my 1st attempt with upside down feeders was with the Perky Pet Bamboo double suet feeder and it didn’t work out. They did not advertise it for starling control, but many reviewers bought it for that reason. It came out last year. Last week I wrote a review about it on their site, mentioning the starlings. The next day, the feeder was taken down from the site. It was well made but useless.
Just discovered your blog! Just the kind of information that I needed and seemed to be hard to find in one place. Thank you so much!
No. You are right: You never can be absolutely SURE of anything. Sometimes what works well for one person for the feeders and birds in their yard doesn’t work at all for someone else in another yard. And sometimes something will work at first . . . but then birds will adjust after a while and it no longer works. Kind of a moving target. I try to look at it as a very dynamic puzzle to be solved. Makes it less frustrating. I figure, I share what I learn through experimenting in my yard here and when people comment back and share their experience, we all gain — at least in ideas of things to try for figuring out our backyard puzzles! LOL