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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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
It is now early July and grackles have 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.
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?
More Posts About Grackles at Feeders
Learn More About Common Grackles
Common Grackle at All About Birds
Common Grackle at Audubon
Common Grackle Page at Penn State University
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