Three types of grackles – great-tailed, boat-tailed and the common variety – can be found throughout the US. We often hear from novice and experienced bird feeders about the headaches that these voracious eaters cause through the spring and summer months. Just a few grackles can empty a feeder in a matter of hours, but an entire flock can empty it in minutes. A question that we are often asked is, “How do you thwart those pesky grackles?”
First, lets distinguish grackles from other “black” birds – blackbirds, starlings, and crows - that may be in your yard. Grackles are black and commonly have a purple and/or aqua iridescence on their head and back. If you look carefully, you will also notice that they have yellow eyes and black beaks. Blackbirds normally are all black with no iridescence. The red-winged blackbird differs with its black body and red wings. Starlings also have a purple iridescence on their head, however they have yellow specks on the tips of their feathers, as well as yellow beaks and orange feet. The typical crow lacks iridescence and can be quite a bit larger, measuring up to 21”. They appear much larger than a 15”- 17” grackle.
Now that we have identified these birds as the source of the problem, you have two options for eliminating them from the feeding station. The first option is to use a selective feeder. These feeders are simple tube feeders fitted with a cage surrounding it. The cage has openings that are large enough to allow small songbirds to feed and small enough to inhibit larger birds from reaching the seed ports. It is important that the cage be large enough in diameter so that the grackles cannot hang on the cage and still reach through to the ports. Such feeders are effective in keeping grackles and starlings from feeding, but may exclude some desirable birds such as cardinals and jays. A new feeder on the market, the Bouncer by Vari-Crafts, is designed to “bounce” squirrels away from the feeder. Its weight sensitive perches are also quite effective at “bouncing” off grackles, starlings, and jays, and allowing the smaller songbirds to perch and feed. For more information on this feeder, please view the Bouncer at http://www.bestnest.com/bestnest/Product.asp?src=BNMAIL&ProdID=482&DeptID=21
. If you have further questions about choosing a selective feeder, consult your bird feeder retailer to determine which selective feeder will suit your needs.
A second option for deterring grackles is to change the seed that you offer. Grackles are attracted to cracked corn and some will eat sunflower seed as well. Most grackles are not fond of thistle seed. Set up a thistle feeder and enjoy the company of goldfinches, house finches, purple finches and chickadees. Or, try substituting your usual mixed seed or sunflower seed with safflower seed. Safflower seed can be found at most pet stores and feed mills. Most songbirds enjoy safflower seed, but the grackles will typically avoid it. After using safflower seed for just a couple of weeks, you can switch back to your usual seed. In most cases the grackles will not return to the feeder after the safflower seed has been offered. When feeding suet, you may try feeding straight suet as opposed to suet blocks containing corn and grains. Using bird-selective seed is a great alternative if you are not looking to spend money on a new feeder. For further questions on selective feeding, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org