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This is the story of how I tried to use a Squirrel Buster Standard feeder to offer dried mealworms to Eastern Bluebirds. In the end, it turned out not to be the best way to do it. But I learned a lot about Eastern Bluebirds and European Starlings in the process . . . and did find a better feeder choice for this purpose in the end.
I’ve offered dried mealworms in my yard for a while now, but not in a big way. I would casually toss a small handful into a brush pile each morning for the Carolina Wrens who love them. Because I would gather the mealworms and peanuts in the same basket to take outside, inevitably a few would wind up in the platform feeder with the peanuts. The Blue Jays would often snap them up after they’d cleaned out the peanuts. But then the Eastern Bluebirds appeared in the yard and I got serious about the dried mealworms!
Bluebirds Arrive Hungry
The bluebirds appeared in the final days of winter when there wasn’t a lot of native food around. I think they were really hungry. They nibbled on the suet and and the occasional sunflower heart. Then they discovered the odd dried mealworms in the platform feeder. I was so thrilled with their surprising presence that I sprinkled more and more in the various feeders.
Starlings Eating the Mealworms
The reason this seemed necessary is that European Starlings apparently love these things obsessively. They drove bluebirds and any other bird in the feeder away to gobble up mealworms. Starlings are hard to drive away when they are focused on something. Thinking to give the bluebirds more of a chance, I eventually had them in four feeders. But that just spread the starling pain out more and encouraged more starlings.
I still wanted to offer it, but not in such large quantities. (It’s more of a snack than a balanced meal for birds anyway.) But I needed to get it contained to at least slow down the starlings. I’ve noticed that starlings can have more trouble dealing with tube feeder ports. So I decided to try putting a cup of mealworms into a really small tube feeder. I hoped this would slow down the starlings and give the bluebirds a chance. Enter the Squirrel Buster Standard feeder.
Squirrel Buster Standard Feeder
The Squirrel Buster Standard is a very small feeder. It is only about 11” tall (around 21″ if you include the attached hanger portion.) It holds ¾ quart or 1.3 pounds of seed.
I planned to hang it on a baffled shepherd’s hook pole, so it didn’t really need to be squirrel proof. But this feeder is weight activated to close the ports when something heavy lands on it. I wanted that feature, setting it all the way up to try and block out bigger birds. The idea was to deny the starlings but let the smaller bluebirds and wrens eat.
I’ve had the Squirrel Buster Plus version of this feeder for years. To be honest, while it is brilliant at blocking out squirrels, I’ve never had consistent luck in blocking out larger birds. A starling is more medium weight bird as feeder birds go. Even set all the way up, a starling’s weight closes it from half to three quarters and rarely fully.
I think it may depend on the individual bird’s weight, how forcefully the bird lands on the feeder, whether they are flapping their wings and/or maybe even how they position themselves on the perch. I’m not sure if the weight of the feeder contents makes a difference.
Starlings on the Feeder
The starlings can usually just barely poke their beaks in to pull out mealworm bits. Because they are (I swear!) the messiest eaters in the backyard bird world, most of the mealworms they can get out wind up on the ground below instead of in their mouths. If more than one shows up and lands on the feeder, it does close and they get none.
Using this feeder for mealworms did slow the starlings down at first. They tended to eat for a few minutes, pulling some out of the feeder. Then they would drop down to pick up mealworms off the ground below and then they give up for awhile. They came back, but they didn’t stay and eat until it is all gone they way they do if you put mealworms out in a platform feeder. (This is similar to what happens if you put suet in an upside-down feeder. On those, starlings learn to dangle on it briefly and get some, but don’t stay long enough to eat every last bit of it.)
(Please note that these are DRIED mealworms. I suspect live mealworms could crawl out!)
Bluebirds & Wrens on the Feeder
But what about the bluebirds and the wrens? Will they use this feeder? Yes. A Carolina Wren figured it out pretty quickly the first day the feeder was up. Wrens began stopping by to grab one or two every now and then that first day.
The bluebirds took a little longer to catch on. They’d been watching me put mealworms out in the platform feeders all along. So I made a point to show them I was putting mealworms in the new feeder when they were watching me. One of the females finally caught on later the first day but the males weren’t going for it.
Even on the second day, the males would come up to the feeder (which is right next to the platform feeder where they used to get mealworms) and look around. Then they would poke around on the ground for bits of mealworms that the starling dropped. Finally, late in the day, they started giving the feeder a try. They have eaten from it a number of times since then. Yes! Bluebirds, wrens and the starlings then began to stop by regularly for mealworms.
Starling Problems Continue
While this worked for the bluebirds and the wrens, the starlings continued to be a problem. They still got into the mealworms and continued to chase the bluebirds away from the feeder. The bluebirds and wrens did have greater windows of time now when they could snag some mealworms.
I had this feeder on the same dual shepherd’s hook feeder with a platform feeder and a tube feeder. All the busy activity at the mealworm feeder was disrupting the use of the other two feeders. After trying several ways of arranging the three feeders on the same pole, I finally moved the mealworm feeder off by itself. I hung it from a tree limb with an Erva disk baffle over it. (It should be squirrel proof but the baffle should keep the squirrels from learning this lesson.)
The bluebirds watched me move the feeder and went to it as soon as I moved away from it. It worked out better there. Where before they had to first land on one of the other two feeders to get to the mealworm feeder, now they can more easily fly right to it. Getting the crazy starlings pointed in a different direction quieted things down on the other two feeders.
But as time passed, more starlings arrived and it got to be too much. If more than one starling arrives at the same time, they bicker and get into prolonged mid-air fights over access. Some starlings figured out how to poke their beak into the gap and then open it wide. This pushed the feeder shroud up temporarily. They could then quickly grab a mealworm before the shroud came back down.
Trying A Different Feeder
I tried making a variety of modifications to this feeder to keep starlings out. But in the end, I could not get starlings completely off of the feeder. So I finally broke down and purchased a different feeder that you can read about in my Erva Mealworm Feeder post. With on small change, this works beautifully.
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