Strategies to Keep Starlings Off Feeders

Last Updated on February 7, 2022 by Nancie

European Starling on Seed Feeder
(European Starling on Seed Feeder)

Keeping aggressive starlings out of bird feeders can be a challenge. Starlings will go after suet, seed and mealworms with a persistence that is both pretty awe inspiring and very frustrating. Over the years, I’ve honed strategies to keep starlings from taking over the feeders in my yard.

Note: This post is an overview of how I manage starlings at my feeders. You will find links to more in-depth discussions of each strategy and/or feeder reviews throughout the post.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Starling on Upside-Down Suet Feeder
Starling on Upside-Down Suet Feeder

Suet: Keep Starlings Off Suet Feeders

Starlings love to settle down on a suet feeder to eat and eat and eat. Their time on the suet often means that woodpeckers and other suet eating birds don’t get a chance. So what can you do?

1) Choose Starling-Proof or Resistant Suet Feeders

Traditional open cage suet feeders are easy for a starling to hop on to eat as long as the suet lasts. If you have starling problems, there are better choices.

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

Upside-Down Suet Feeders

One option is to instead use an upside-down suet feeder. These work just fine for clinging birds like woodpeckers, wrens, titmouse, chickadees, etc. but make eating more difficult for starlings. Starlings can learn to cling temporarily to the bottom of these feeders but it slows them down. They can’t keep it up for as long.

My review of the Birds Choice Upside-Down Suet Feeders I use also includes tips for helping birds find the hidden suet. If you hang your suet feeders on baffled poles like I do, be sure to read how to Keep Grackles & Starlings Off Pole-Mounted Upside-Down Suet Feeders.

Don’t want to put money into replacing your traditional cage feeder with an upside-down feeder? You can hack your traditional feeder to turn it upside-down. See my post on DIY Starling-Proofing Traditional Suet Feeders.

Downy Woodpecker in Starling-Proof Suet Feeder
Downy Woodpecker in Caged Starling-Proof Suet Feeder

Cage Suet Feeders

Another possibly more effective option to deter starlings is to use a suet feeder surrounded by a cage. Smaller birds like Downy Woodpeckers, chickadees, titmouses, wrens, etc. can pop inside the cage to eat the suet. Larger birds like starlings can’t get to the suet. The downside of course is that larger woodpeckers like red-bellies also can’t get in.

Check my review of the Erva Starling-Proof Suet Feeder for more on the cage suet feeder I use in my yard.

Pure Suet
Suet Without Any Additions

2) Use Different Suet to Deter Starlings

Commercial suet and some homemade versions often include things like cracked corn or peanut chips that starlings love. I’ve found in my yard that skipping the additions and instead only serving up pure suet in the winter, causes starlings to lose interest. The downside to this strategy is that some other backyard suet-eating birds also may not like the plain suet. But the upside is that woodpeckers will eat pure suet. For more on serving up pure suet, see my post on Suet Starlings and Grackles Won’t Eat?

My own winter strategy is to put pure suet in upside-down suet feeders for woodpeckers and suet with extra ingredients inside a caged suet feeder for smaller birds. This approach discourages starlings but still invites other suet-eating birds.

Note: For more on suet, also see my post on: Solving Suet & Suet Feeder Problems.

Starling On Feeder Pole Arm
Starling On Feeder Pole Arm

Seed: Keep Starlings From Dominating Seed Feeders

Starlings can also be a pain on seed feeders. Their long relatively soft beaks are designed for eating softer foods like bugs, so they have trouble cracking larger, thick shelled seeds. For this reason, it is often suggested that you switch to larger thick shelled seeds instead of easier-to-eat small seeds or seed chips. But starlings are quite willing to sweep through seed in a platform feeder to find cracked seed, making a huge mess and driving other birds away. I have a couple of strategies for keeping them from taking over my seed feeders.

Woodlink Caged Seed Feeder
Woodlink Cage Seed Feeder

1) Choose Starling-Proof Seed Feeders

Starling’s open beak gaping method of snagging and eating food makes it tricky for them to get food out of narrow tube feeder ports. That said, if that is where the food is, they’ll still spend long periods of time working at getting the seed out. The only sure-fire way to keep a starling out of a feeder with seed it wants is to put the seed deep inside a cage. The outer cage’s openings are too narrow to let the starling inside but smaller birds can pop in and out easily. See my review of the Woodlink Seed Feeders I use to offer sunflower chips to smaller birds without feeding starlings.

Mesh in a Platform Feeder
Mesh Covered Platform Feeder

2) Adjust Platform and Hopper Feeders

Starlings really prefer platform and hopper style feeders where the seed is spread out for them and easy to access. They sweep through the layer of seed to find what they want, often dumping a ton of seed on the ground below in the process. One option would be to not use these types of feeders. But other birds like Northern Cardinals also prefer platform and hopper feeders. So you may not want to stop using them.

If you have problems with starlings sweeping their beaks through seed and dumping it on the ground, check out my two related posts on European Starlings: Messy Eaters and Starlings Dumping Seed on the Ground for tips on reducing the mess.

Mealworm Feeder
My Tweaked Mealworm Feeder

Mealworms: Keep Starlings From Eating All the Mealworms

Starlings LOVE mealworms. They are incredibly persistent in finding ways to get at them and gobble them up. I spent many months trying different ways to offer dried mealworms to bluebirds without starlings eating them all instead. My final conclusion was that the only way to successfully offer mealworms is to put them inside a caged feeder.

Choose Starling-Proof Mealworm Feeders

My review of Erva’s Starling-Proof Mealworm Feeder explains how this caged feeder works in my yard. It also includes tips for how to help bluebirds figure out the cage access. A follow-up post describes how I tweaked this feeder to more successfully offer dried mealworms: Erva’s Bluebird Feeder & Dried Mealworms.

Starling Flock on Highway Sign
Starling Flock on Highway Sign

Starlings as Part of Mixed “Blackbird” Flocks

Starlings don’t spend much time in my yard during warmer months when caterpillars and other foods they prefer are easy to find. They instead turn up at feeders on cold days in deep winter and early spring when this food is scarcer. Often they arrive as part of large mixed “blackbird” flocks that also often include Common Grackles, Brown-Headed Cowbirds and Red-Winged Blackbirds. These flocks can take over every feeder in the yard, pushing out the regular feeder birds. Even after the flocks move on, some starlings often stick around.

Deterring these big mixed flocks often requires a mix of strategies. Check out my post on Mixed Blackbird Flocks at My Feeders for ideas to try when the flocks arrive.

Managing Expectations

Will using these strategies keep every single starling out of your yard? Probably not. Starlings are incredibly persistent birds and when they are hungry, they will come to where food can be found. But we can slow them down and/or block them completely from some feeders. Keep in mind that making it harder encourages them to move on and look elsewhere.

Just don’t expect to get rid of every last starling. I’ve found there usually is at least one stubborn one that hangs around and keeps on trying. Even if you successfully block them from feeders, there may still be one or more poking around on the ground looking for seed. Instead, concentrate on the bigger goal: making sure the birds we DO want to feed are able to eat at our feeders! Aim to minimize starling disruptions at feeders.

Do you have questions about dealing with starlings at your feeders? Or have you come up with a strategy that works for you? Please feel welcome to comment below.


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8 thoughts on “Strategies to Keep Starlings Off Feeders

  1. They are beautiful birds though. I have never seen one here. Sorry there are a nuisance. Our main issue this winter is white-winged doves. They arrive 30 or more at a time and devour safflower/sunflower chips from the platform feeder. Amazing how many balance on feeder at the same time.

    1. Hi Michael,
      Yes, I do agree that they are beautiful. It’s their table manners that tend to aggravate people trying to feed other birds when they are around. They are just very aggressive in their pursuit of whatever food they have their eye on.

      I saw White-Winged Doves when we visited Mexico. They are lovely birds but I only saw them in parks and didn’t see what they did at feeders. Their feeding at feeders sounds a lot like the flocks of Mourning Doves we get here. Mourning Doves often descend in large flocks on the platform feeders to eat the same foods. Our doves are a favorite target of Cooper’s Hawks though, so they are very skittish and fly off in a panic at every little thing.

      Good wishes,

  2. So I already have a few families of finches that use my large hedge as their refuge. I have a few feeders as well and all the birds are happy here. Just recently I’ve been getting daily visits from 5 or 6 bluebirds and while I’d like to have a “bluebird only feeder” and maybe a nestbox or 2 for them I’m thinking it may not be such a good idea beings how they don’t get along with finches too well. I have many arborvitaes and about 3 trees but not a whole lot of open space. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks

    1. Hi Bob,
      In my yard the bluebirds and the finches (in my case, House Finches and American Goldfinches) don’t seem to have any problems with each other. While bluebirds do also eat seed,in my yard, the bluebirds are mostly in the feeder area to get dried mealworms that are in a different feeder. The finches show no interest in mealworms so no problems there.

      House Finches can be very squabbley (especially amongst themselves), while American Bluebirds are more likely to back off when challenged. If you set up a mealworm feeder, I don’t think the finches and bluebirds would be in conflict over it.

  3. Thanks for the very informative article! The caged feeders look nice but are quite an investment and I have red-bellied woodpecker friends that I’d like to feed. I’m wondering if the upside down feeders will make a mess on the ground that the grackles (or rats) will go after. Did you notice if this was a problem? I’m pretty sure grackles are ok with eating from the ground.

    1. Hi Rosemary,
      Typically there are some tiny bits of suet that get dropped onto the ground under an upside-down feeder. I never have found this to be a problem because, at least under my feeders, the amount is so small that it gets quickly eaten by other birds. Even if grackles are the birds eating the few bits to be found under the feeder, they don’t find a lot there to eat and so don’t stay long. Keep in mind though that stronger grackles can learn to dangle for short periods from upside-down feeders. I’ve found the upside-down feeders to be better at deterring grackles than some other more easily accessed feeders but they don’t block them entirely.
      Good luck!

  4. I have the Erva feeder and the starlings still swarm it and chase off the bluebirds that try to go in there. I’m not sure what else to do to stop them but it’s definitely frustrating!

    1. Same here! I’m sorry to say that the cage entrances on my Erva feeder are too small for most of my bluebirds to enter the feeder. The only exception has been the smaller female bluebirds. After doing a great deal of research, I have essentially concluded that there is no sure proof way to feed bluebirds when starlings are present. So far I’ve been unsuccessful.

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