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Do you need to protect suet feeders from European Starlings? Most of the year, I don’t see starlings in the yard, but winter snows bring all kinds of birds to feeders. Starlings are pretty 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.
Option 1: Cut Up the Suet Block
I’ve got a few strategies for protecting suet feeders from starlings. The first, 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.
They typically to like to sit on top 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.
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.
Option 2: Hang Suet Upside Down
I then read about another solution to protect suet. 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.
Hang the suet cage on its side so that the exposed surface faces down. In this position, starlings have a harder time getting to the suet. More agile birds like Downy 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 dominate the suet.
I have 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 the hooked chains to hang the feeders from my local bird store (Mother Natures.) These are similar to the Homestead 33″ Bird Feeder Chain).
Suet Getting Moldy
I offer suet all year long. During warmer months, suet in an open 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 using this type of feeder, 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.
Birds Get Used to the Tweaked Feeders
You might wonder how birds 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. Even now, I occasionally need to swap out the plastic if the sides get too ragged. (See the photo above.)
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 possible that if the chain the feeder dangles from is long enough, it might thwart them.
But in my experience, the only suet completely free of squirrels is in the suet cage hanging on a baffled pole. The squirrels haven’t figured out how to get up there . . . yet! Never bet against a squirrel that wants to eat!
Option 3: Upside-Down Suet Feeders
2019 Update: The upside down suet in the plastic worked well for me for quite awhile. Eventually I decided to formalize things and switched to using Birds Choice Upside Down Suet Feeders. These 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.
Do you have a problem offering suet to the birds in your yard? Check out my Solving Suet & Suet Feeder Problems post.
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