On my last beat post for 10,000 Birds I talked about how to avoid European Starlings at your seed feeder. You can also avoid them at your suet feeder too. It’s not a one hundred percent solution, but it works to keep most starlings, grackles and crows from the feeder. Let’s watch this video of a chickadee on a suet cage feeder:
Note how that chickadee could access that suet cage from any side and chose to hang upside down? They are clinging birds and use the technique on branches and tree trunks. They are well suited for feeding in a variety of positions. “Blackbirds” do not have the same ability.
Chickadees, woodpeckers, titmice (like the bird above) and nuthatches are considered “clinging type birds” and can easily hang upside-down to get access to food. Starlings, grackles and crows have a tougher time with that. There are suet feeders that are designed to with that in mind, called (remarkably enough) upside down suet feeders.
Here’s a Red-bellied Woodpecker on an upside down suet feeder made of recycled plastic. There’s caging on the bottom for the feeder and that’s the only place birds can gain access to the suet. These feeders can also be made of wood, but I’ve heard stories of woodpeckers pecking holes through the lid of the feeder to gain access to the suet, rather than hanging upside down. Recycled plastic is probably the better way to go–and certainly easier to clean.
Most starlings, grackles and crows cannot hang upside down, but I have seen a few give it the old college try and are somewhat successful. I would say that about 1 in a thousand figure it out.
Some of you may be thinking, “Hey, it’s spring, why bother with suet?”
That’s my favorite time to offer suet. Birds fresh from migration will sometimes come to a suet feeder, especially if there’s a cold snap and few insects available. Even warblers and tanagers will fly in for some nut flavored fat. I also keep offering non-melting suet dough well into the summer, because I enjoy watching adult woodpeckers teaching their young how to feed from it.
Now, most people are dealing with grackles on their northward migration right now. At first, seeing a few grackles can be a sign of hope that spring is indeed on the way, but then a few turn all too quickly into a a few hundred and they go through the seed faster than frat boys at a keg. There is a technique you can try, but it takes patience.
This is it, it’s called safflower seed. There is technique in offering this seed. If you have been feeding black-oil sunflower and suddenly switch to straight safflower, birds will abandon your feeders. They are creatures of habit and do not accept a drastic change in seed. You can do one of 2 things:
1. Gradually add and increase the amount of safflower in your bird feeder. At first, it might get ignored and if grackles have arrived, it will end up on the ground, but other birds like Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinals, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, chickadees, titmice and nuthatches will eat it.
2. If you have multiple feeders, make one an all safflower feeder–something that has a tray or wide perching area for larger birds like cardinals and doves. This will be the feeder that the blackbirds will avoid and the other birds can eat in peace.
Safflower is not the favorite food of house sparrows, red-winged blackbirds and squirrels. They might eat it if they have to but it can sometimes keep those species away too.
Sharon Stiteler was given a Peterson Field Guide to Birds when she was seven years old and snapped. She loves birds - it’s just the way she’s wired. Since 1997, she has made it her goal to get paid to go birding. She runs the popular birding blog, Birdchick.com, and has been in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and on NBC Nightly News as well as making regular appearances on Twin Cities’ TV and radio stations. She’s a professional speaker and story-teller and her writing can be found in several publications including WildBird Magazine, Outdoor News, and Birding Business. She wrote the books 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know, Disapproving Rabbits and City Birds/Country Birds. When she’s not digiscoping, tweeting or banding birds, she’s a part-time park ranger and award-winning beekeeper.
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