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Early spring brings European Starlings to the yard. They are tenacious about sticking around to eat as much seed, suet and mealworms as they can get from feeders. Very messy eaters, they sweep a lot of seed out of platform and hopper feeders onto the ground. And once on the ground, most of it is eaten by squirrels. This year I had to temporarily put my hanging hopper feeder away . . . BUT, this past week I had a brainstorm that I think has stopped the dumping.
Starlings & Hopper Feeders
The Birds Choice hanging hopper feeder I use is small. The trays are only about 6 1/2” wide with a little bit lip to keep seed inside. Starlings stick their beaks in the tray, open wide and flip their beaks around, tossing seed on the ground. Gravity keeps moving more seed down into the emptying tray. They keep sweeping it out until the feeder is empty and all the seed is on the ground.
Ironically, the starlings don’t usually go down on the ground to eat what they spill. Other birds will eat some, but squirrels usually get the bulk of it. I have all my feeders well protected from squirrels, so this is frustrating.
Adding a Screen to Hopper Feeders
Cutting & Fitting Chicken Wire
The trick is to stop the bill sweeping. For starlings, that means dividing up the tray so they need to pick out the seed. To do this, I cut a piece of chicken wire to snugly fit the inside width of the tray. I added about a half inch extra on the back end to bend up into the hopper feed. This holds it in place. And I added a half inch extra on the front end to bend down at the tray’s front lip. I made sure not to leave any sharp edges exposed that might cut a bird.
Now when I pour seed into the hopper and it feeds into the tray, there is a layer of chicken wire over it. (Note: I fill this feeder with safflower which flows easily. I haven’t tried this with other types of seed.) The chicken wire creates 1” wide circles of access to the seed. The starling can no longer quickly and repeatedly spread his beak wide to rapidly sweep the seed out. He can still use the feeder, but he needs to use better table manners.
Most Birds Still Use the Feeder
When I put up my doctored feeder, several House Finches popped up on it right away. They had no issues with the chicken wire. The Northern Cardinals started using it a few hours later. They seem fine with it too, as are Carolina Wrens.
I have not seen Mourning Doves on this feeder since I added the chicken wire. And this is a feeder they sometimes use. But I got the feeder as an alternative for cardinals and finches when the platform feeders are full of Mourning Doves. So that is actually fine.
As I write this, it has been almost a week since I tweaked this feeder. There are still obnoxiously behaving starlings at other feeders but they now mostly leave this one alone. The seed dumping from this feeder has stopped. Once in a while I see a starling on this feeder but so far only for short periods. She is not longer making a mess.
Adding Mesh to Platform Feeders
I am currently experimenting with plastic mesh green garden fencing placed over the seed in two platform feeders. (I had read a suggestion online that this can be helpful in deterring House Sparrows from feeder trays. House Sparrows aren’t in these particular feeders, but I figured I could try this for starlings.)
Cutting Plastic Mesh to Size
The plastic mesh cuts easily to size with a regular pair of scissors. So you don’t have to worry about sharp edges or rusting. The holes are just a little bit larger and more square than circular. (Note: I purchased the plastic mesh fencing at Home Depot. Lowes lists a poultry mesh fencing that has the more traditional octagon shaped holes.) It doesn’t hold its shape the way metal chicken wire will. So I’m not sure it would work the same way in my hopper feeder where seed would need to move beneath it.
For the platform feeders, I cut the plastic mesh to snugly fit the inside dimensions of the tray. It lays on top of the seed.
All Birds Still Use the Feeder
House Finches, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and Mourning Doves (feeder regulars) are fine with it, although the first cardinal on one of the doctored feeders cocked her head and looked at it a bit dubiously when she first encountered it. Red-Winged Blackbirds will also use it. Other birds that I’m not big fans of, Common Grackles and Brown-Headed Cowbirds are fine with it too.
Starlings still use the feeders with the plastic mesh. But instead of frantically stabbing their beaks seemingly every which way and opening wide to sort through the seed, they have to slow down and aim. There doesn’t seem to be as much seed flying around. It’s not a huge difference but I think it helps a little.
It will soon be warm enough that the starlings will go look for bugs and leave the feeders mostly alone. But the chicken wire tweak let me put my hopper feeder back into use a little earlier than I expected. And the mesh is slowing them down on the platform feeders. So that’s a win.
Learn More About Maryland Birds
See my post on Central Maryland Backyard Birds.
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