When Grackles Don’t Leave

Last Updated on January 18, 2021 by Nancie

Common Grackle at Squirrel Buster Plus (Perches Removed)
Common Grackle Hovers at Bird Feeder

This year, the spring grackles didn’t leave. Every year, we get flocks of nuisance “blackbirds”, including Common Grackles, in late winter and early spring. In my area, some of these grackles are year-round residents but more northern-based grackles do also migrate through the area, increasing their numbers. They usually only cause problems for a few weeks. This year was different.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Temperature & Grackles At Feeders

Grackles are omnivores, eating all kinds of things including seeds, insects, frogs, small mammals, eggs and other birds, as well as items found in human trash. But food can be harder to find when it is colder. In the summer, as much as a quarter of their diet is inspects and small animals, but on cold days, insects and some other creatures don’t tend to be as active and easy to find. The birds need to eat, so they come to feeders.

I’ve noticed when temperatures are under about fifty degrees, this is often when grackles mob my feeders. Chances increase when there is snow. As the temperature rises, they seem to spend less time at feeders. So in the spring, some days will start cool and full of grackles but end warmer and more grackle free.

Once the weather warms up, the grackles usually move on and, at least in my Maryland yard, I don’t see them much. This year was different. The grackles didn’t leave.

Common Grackle on Squirrel Buster Classic (Perches Removed)
Common Grackle on Feeder

Switching Sunflower to Safflower

Grackles are not big fans of safflower seed, although they WILL eat it if they are hungry enough. So most years, once the grackles arrive and try to take over the feeders, I switch out sunflower hearts for safflower in all the feeders except the more protected cage feeders.

If the grackles can find something they like better elsewhere, they won’t hang around. Usually this takes care of the annual spring grackle problem (although it doesn’t help with European Starlings.) Typically this period lasts a few weeks and then I can switch some of those feeders back to sunflower.

Grackles, Suet & Mealworms

This year, the grackles didn’t leave. Switching out the sunflower for safflower kept them off those feeders but they still hung around. They instead focused on the suet and dried mealworms.

I use upside-down suet feeders that they have to work at to use. They can’t just sit on them and eat, but they can make short fluttering hovers underneath to get a little at a time. This can still interfere with woodpeckers trying to eat but at least grackles are limited and can’t eat it all.

(Update: I’ve since added a caged suet feeder that grackles are too big to get into. I’ve also been experimenting with using pure suet in the open upside-down suet feeders.)

The mealworm feeder is inside a cage that grackles can’t get inside, so they can’t just sit on the feeder and gobble them up. Instead, the more patient grackles wait for bluebirds and wrens to use the feeder and fling dried mealworms around on the feeder floor. Then the grackle moves in to hang on the side to gather up whatever scattered mealworms it can reach. Again, it can’t eat them all. But this is one case where other birds get to eat first and mostly are not chased away.

(Update: I’ve since tweaked the mealworm feeder so that fewer mealworms wind up on the feeder floor where grackles can reach them.)

Juvenile Common Grackle in Brush Pile
Juvenile Common Grackle in Brush Pile (2017)

Grackles Nesting Nearby?

I suspect that the grackles didn’t leave this year because several must have nested somewhere in the yard or nearby. I think the suet and mealworms were for their young. Once their young fledged, they brought them to the suet feeders for a day or two. After that, the grackles seem to have left.

By early July the grackles finally stopped going after the suet and hanging on the mealworm feeder. For the past week or so, I have only seen them rarely. I am crossing fingers and toes that they have finally moved on.

Common Grackle at Birdbath
Common Grackle at Birdbath

Gradually Adding Sunflower Back

Now I am very gradually adding some sunflower back to see what happens. I was able to keep sunflower hearts in the three cage feeders all along, but I like to offer it in the Squirrel Buster feeders as well to accommodate more birds, especially the American Goldfinches who nest late and get very eager for sunflower hearts when they do. Fingers crossed!

Have you had problems with grackles in your yard? Do they usually leave after a few weeks or do they stick around?


Fewer Mixed Blackbird Flocks at My Feeders

Get Grackles Off Seed Feeders

Grackles vs. Nuttery Globe Feeder

Woodlink Cage Feeder Review

Acrobatic Grackles on Suet Feeders

Learn More About Common Grackles

Common Grackle at All About Birds

Common Grackle at Audubon

Grackles: Are You Getting Them Right? at eBird

Common Grackle Page at Penn State University

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13 thoughts on “When Grackles Don’t Leave

  1. The grackles are still hanging around and are quick to swarm the feeders when I come home and fill them. It’s a shame. I want to feed the cardinals but the grackles usually take over the feeders that are not in cages. I suspect they have nests near by because I have seen young ones. They also hang out on the ground waiting for seed to drop. I swear the finches are feeding them!

    1. Hi Tim, Sorry to hear that! Are your grackles eating safflower too? Hopefully once their young have completely fledged, they’ll calm down and give you a break. Cardinals always seem to be the ones that suffer when the nuisance birds take over. Sigh. Nancie

  2. I occasionally try safflower but the doves gobble it up quicker than the cardinals. Same problem different birds. Lol

  3. I am interested on how to get rid of the Black Birds, i hope when weather warms up, that they will leave.
    I enjoy the birds and loved to listen to there songs in the morning

    1. Hi Delores,
      In my experience, the annoying spring flock birds usually move away from the feeders once the temperature warms up enough. I think on warm days, it is probably easier to find insects and worms, etc. On cold days, it is easier for them to hit the feeders. In my area the temperatures have been swinging from cold to hot to cold again lately.

      For example, the day before yesterday was cold and grey so there were some grackles and starlings around the feeders. Then yesterday it was over 80F. The grackles and starlings were not around. Today is back to cold and grey. The grackles and starlings are back poking around. Soon it will be warm every day and they’ll be gone . . . until next spring!

      Good luck!


  4. I love all birds however the blackbirds are really taking over this fall. I had to pull in all of my feeders including my two caged feeders because of them. They are following the bluejays when they want to hide a peanut in a shell and grabbing it from their hiding spot. They have mastered some of the feeders and I just couldn’t take it anymore! When do they migrate? I live in Northern Ontario Canada.

    1. Hi Laurie,
      I do understand. These flocks can be incredibly frustrating around feeders. You didn’t mention the specific species that is currently causing you so much trouble. Since the post is on grackles, but I’m going to assume you are talking about Common Grackles. I’m not an expert on migration, and don’t have first hand knowledge of it in your specific area, but my understanding is that the peak of Common Grackle migration is October to early November. But you are pretty far north, so my guess would be that your grackles would move through on the earlier end of their migration.

      My suggestion would be to wait at least a week and then try putting one of the feeders back. Maybe pick a feeder that they have the most trouble getting into. If they swarm back, take it down and wait another week. If they don’t return, try adding more feeders back.

      Alternatively (or in addition), if you haven’t tried safflower in your feeders before, you might try getting a small quantity and try it in one feeder to see if they will eat it or not. Grackles will grudgingly eat it in my yard if they are super hungry but are not fans. So I find that safflower is not a cure but does sometimes help. I suspect that they will search the area for a seed they like better before settling for the safflower. I think safflower is a seed birds learn to eat. When I first put it out in my yard, the nuisance flocks left it completely alone, but over years of time, they’ve learned to eat it. So it might help or it might not make a difference. It just depends on whether your particular visitors are familiar with it and how hungry they are.

      Good luck!

  5. I’m not sure if grackles can eat striped sunflower seeds, but I have a huge problem with European starlings and they can’t crack the shell because their beaks are too soft. I switched from black sunflower to striped and they ate all the suet, and most of the peanuts, but haven’t touched the striped sunflower seeds. My next step is to switch to real suet, not cakes, and start serving that.
    The downfall with the striped sunflower seeds is that a lot of the little birds can’t crack the shell either. But the cardinals, chickadees, jays, titmouse, woodpeckers all love it and they don’t have to fight the blasted starlings for it.

    1. Hi Denise,
      That sounds like a very reasonable approach. Starlings are SUCH a pain! Their persistence is an asset for them but the soft beaks do work against them. I have found that (at least so far), the starlings that visit my yard don’t like the pure suet without the additions, so that is definitely another approach to try and discourage them. Woodpeckers in my yard still enjoy the pure suet.

      If you want to add the smaller birds back in too, you might try putting seeds they can eat into a starling-proof caged feeder. In my yard, I’ve been liking the Woodlink cage feeders and the Erva Starling-Proof feeders for these smaller birds. (I’ve got reviews on these feeders here on my site if you are interested.)

      Good luck!

  6. I’ve never had a problem with grackles until this year. Usually they move on after a couple of weeks and that’s it. But they are staying this year. Not going to lie, I am not happy. They not only chase off my songbirds but they are now chasing my hawks. So I will try your suggestions and hope by June they are gone. It is now the 3rd week in May

    1. Hi Susan,
      I do understand. They can be so frustrating. If they are hanging around because they are nesting nearby, hopefully they will move on after the nestlings fledge.
      Good luck!

  7. So glad I found your article. I put out mealworms for the other birds – BIG MISTAKE. They would empty my sunflower feeders in hours. I finally pulled all my feeders except for the nyjer feeder which I hope they can’t access and don’t like. I’m hoping in a week or so they move on. I never had this problem in prior years. I’m in York PA. Glad to see this is happening with others.

    1. Hi Maggie,
      I’ve never seen grackles show any interest in nyjer so I think you’ll be fine there.
      Good luck!

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