Last Updated on March 26, 2023 by Nancie
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.
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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.
(2023 Note: Over years of feeding birds, I’ve seen the appeal of safflower to the “blackbird” mobs change. These days they seem perfectly ready to eat safflower. I still do swap it into my Squirrel Buster feeders anyway though as they do seem to still like it a little less than the sunflower chips I prefer to put in these particular feeders.)
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.)
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.
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
Fewer Mixed Blackbird Flocks at My Feeders
Grackles vs. Nuttery Globe Feeder
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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21 thoughts on “When Grackles Don’t Leave”
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!
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
Grackles have eaten my safflower seed, stripped sunflower seed any all other bird seed we use. Don’t know why people think they do not eat these types of seed. They chase all the other birds away and it is getting to expensive to waste good quality seed on grackles and other nuisance birds. It’s sad because I so enjoy taking time to sit outside and watch the birds.
I think specific bird species often have preferences for particular types of seed but a bird needs to eat and if their favorite isn’t available, will eat an alternative that is available. When I first starting feeding birds in a really serious way, switching the feeders over to safflower when the spring mobs of grackles and starlings and blackbirds arrived would send them on their way. But over the years, I’ve found that these birds have become more open to eating safflower and will settle in to the safflower feeders now. Maybe they’ve just become more familiar with it? Same with squirrels. In years past, the local squirrels wouldn’t eat it in my yard, but they got used to it over time and now several generations of squirrels have been raised on safflower gleaned from under my feeders.
I’ve found that caged type feeders do help tremendously. I can put sunflower chips in a well-designed and baffled caged feeder for example and feed the finches, nuthatches, chickadees, titmouses, Pine Warblers and even Downy Woodpeckers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. They do block out some larger birds that I like though (like the Northern Cardinals and Bluejays.) So I still have a few platform feeders with safflower for them. If you are interested in trying a caged feeder, I do have a reviews of a few that I like and use on this site.
I occasionally try safflower but the doves gobble it up quicker than the cardinals. Same problem different birds. Lol
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
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.
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.
I’ve never seen grackles show any interest in nyjer so I think you’ll be fine there.
Grackle’s are a problem here also in S. MN. They even invade the jelly feeders for the Orioles. I actually have to sit nearby to shoo them away.
Grackles can be incredibly persistent. Being present in the yard is often the most reliable (and time consuming) way to keep them off when they are determined to get to a food.
Grackles are gorgeous, but they are eating us out of house & home! The woodpeckers, jays, cardinals, titmice, sparrows, juncos, etc all got used to them, so that’s not a problem, but without sales on bird seed it’s getting expensive! On the other hand, the upside of them sticking around this spring is that we have a couple of baby grackles (as well as baby cardinals, a baby red bellied woodpecker, and baby finches). The baby grackles are adorable with their ringed eyes, & they sit on our arbor fluttering their wings & squawking to be fed even though they are already capable of eating on their own. Still, we may have to try the safflower if the number of grackles around here keeps going up!
It’s hard not to love the babies! With luck, once the little ones are fully fledged, your grackle population may settle down a bit for the summer. Many birds are finding lots to of bugs and/or seeds to eat away from feeders so summer feeders tend to be quieter. The grackles will surely swing around again to visit your feeders in the winter and spring though!
I made a feeder from a wire dog kennel and it’s worked great at keeping the larger birds away. It allows Cardinal, woodpeckers, and smaller birds to enter but keeps out the grackles, jays, and doves. It’s quite easy to make if anyone is interested.
I would absolutely love to see your wire dog kennel prototype!