Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Nuisance Birds May Come with Spring
February 27, 2021
By Steve Grinley
The huge winter swarms of starlings seem to have dispersed a bit, with many smaller flocks and individuals invading area feeders. This is the time when starlings overtake squirrels in the complaint department as the number one nuisance at backyard feeders. They are primary after suet but will also raid mealworms (intended for bluebirds and others) as well as seed – primarily shell-free seed.
The best defense against starlings is to limit access to the suet. We usually limit our suet offering to the logs that have no perches that are enjoyed year-round by the woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice and our Carolina wrens. Starlings have trouble clinging to the vertical logs. Upside down suet feeders where the lighter birds can hang, cling and feed but the heavier starlings have a more challenging time. Suet feeders with cages around them also deter starlings, but limits access by the larger woodpeckers as well.
We are not lucky enough to get bluebirds on any regular basis, but we do feed mealworms to our Carolina wrens. We prevent starlings and other large birds from accessing the mealworms with our enclosed “bluebird” feeder. Ours has one and a half inch holes on both ends and an inch and a half mesh screen on the sides. The wrens (and bluebirds if we had them) readily enter through the holes or the mesh sides, but starlings, robins and other large birds cannot enter.
We have already seen small flocks of red-winged blackbirds in Newbury and Salisbury. A few grackles have been reported from Ipswich, Salisbury and West Newbury. In another few weeks, grackles will surpass starlings in the complaint department! Soon, grackles and other large blackbird flocks will be migrating through, feeding on lawns and overtaking some bird feeding stations.
Grackles enjoy seed as well as suet. The best deterrent against grackles are caged feeders that allow only small birds to feed. Feeders with weighed perches, such as the Squirrel Buster brand feeders are also effective. Some have adjustable springs that are sensitive enough to allow a cardinal to feed, but close off the food to the heavier grackles. Also, safflower is said to be less attractive to grackles, and squirrels, but cardinals love it!
It is exciting to hear so many customers talk about the bluebirds they are seeing in their yard – many for the first time. The bluebirds are feeding on berries such as holly in yards, and also coming to water and suet. Adding peanut butter suet pieces (a.k.a. Bluebird Nuggets) to a cup or tray feeder can entice bluebirds as well as live or dried mealworms. You might also give thought to adding a bluebird nest box to your property as bluebirds will soon be scouting for houses in March.
Bluebirds and flocks of redwings are early signals that spring is finally approaching. A few phoebes have been spotted already and early killdeer have been reported. Soon woodcock will arrive and begin their courtship rituals in open fields near wood areas. The days are definitely getting longer, temperatures are becoming more tolerable and we can feel the sun warming us more on sunny days. Spring is only a few weeks away and will be so welcome!