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Getting rid of grackles eating seed at bird feeders isn’t easy. Grackles are determined birds. But I have two strategies to get rid of them or at least reduce their visits: Pick the right seed and the right feeder! This is what I do each spring.
Here in the Mid-Atlantic, Common Grackles live year-round. But they don’t tend to be a problem in warmer months when there are lots of bugs to eat. But every year in late winter and early spring, a flock of grackles descends on my yard.
They are smart birds with subtly beautiful feathers, but I really don’t like their behavior. Arriving in an aggressive group, the regular birds get pushed out. Grackles are very persistent about going after what they want. They will continue to hang around as long as they can get it. So this spring, I again had to make adjustments to get them to calm down.
Swap Safflower For Sunflower
Each year, the first step to get the grackles off the seed feeders is to temporarily swap out sunflower hearts for safflower. Grackles will eat safflower but they are not fond of it. So swapping out sunflower for that typically has an immediate impact. It’s interesting to watch.
They go to the feeder expecting sunflower, peek in each port in turn. Sometimes they pull out some safflower and drop it on the ground to see if there is some sunflower lurking under the safflower. It is possible that they may eat it if they are really hungry but mostly they turn their beaks up at it.
I learned last year that I need to keep the seed swapped out for a few weeks or the grackles just return again in force. (Remember, grackles are smart. They will keep coming back to check if the seed has changed again.) But after they have found alternate sunflower seed sources, I can put the sunflower back.
I’ve also never seen grackles take any interest in nyjer seed. This seed is popular with finches like American Goldfinches and House Finches. If you have feeders with only nyjer (no sunflower or other side mixed into it), grackles will probably leave it alone.
Add Cage Feeders to Block Grackles
There is a downside to simply swapping seed. While many birds will eat safflower (and Northern Cardinals love it) there are some, like American Goldfinches, whose beaks aren’t designed for such a big hard seed. I have four nyjer seed feeders in the side yard for goldfinches. Grackles leave these alone. But goldfinches and other birds also crave the fat from sunflower seeds this time of year.
So last year, my second step getting rid of the grackles was to purchase a Nuttery Globe Feeder. It allowed me to offer sunflower to just the smaller birds. This did solve the immediate spring problem. You’ll find last year’s review of the Nuttery Globe Seed Feeder in this blog post.
But this year when I swapped out the safflower in my Squirrel Buster feeders, the globe feeder was immediately mobbed with House Finches and Goldfinches. The White-Breasted Nuthatches, Tufted Titmouses, Carolina Chickadees and Carolina Wrens didn’t have a chance at it and the finches were bickering. (Well, House Finches are always bickering . . .) So I decided to expand my bird feeder collection yet again.
I wanted a feeder that could hold shelled sunflower seeds but that larger birds like the grackles can’t get into. This year’s choice was the Woodlink Squirrel-Proof Seed Tube Feeder. Its plastic seed tube has multiple metal ports surrounded by a metal cage. Larger birds will sometimes try it, but when they learn they can’t get anything from them, they mostly leave them alone.
I reviewed this feeder separately in this post: Woodlink Squirrel-Proof Seed Tube Feeder. Because it is fairly tall, I added extensions to make my Erva feeder poles higher. (See the Erva Feeder Pole Extensions blog post.)
I swapped the seed and added the new feeder about a week ago. Going from dominating the feeders and excluding everyone else, grackles now are left to look for spilled sunflower on the ground.
After the first day, most moved on, with just a couple lingering to compete with the Blue Jays for peanuts and sometimes get into the suet. But the Blue Jays win the peanut fight most of the time. They left their pals the Red-Winged Blackbirds behind along with a European Starling or two (both of whom will eat safflower).
For the first several days grackles came by at least once each day (but less and less each day) to check the feeders. Then they move on, giving the other birds a reprieve. I haven’t seen a single grackle today. (Note: They do come back on chilly spring days when bugs are harder to find to try and get into the suet and dried mealworms.)
I approach solving bird feeder issues as a challenge or a puzzle. Not everything at the feeders is something I can control, but I try to nudge things toward a balance where the widest variety of birds can get food, water and shelter in my yard.
PS: If you have trouble with grackles on suet, check out my post on Solving Suet and Suet Feeder Problems.
Learn More About Grackles
Learn More About Maryland Birds
See my post on Central Maryland Backyard Birds.
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