They think they're bigger and badder than everyone else. They push others around to get what they want. They travel in packs. And they're always picking a fight.
The Big Bully.
But I'm not talking about the kid in school who made the sixth grade a living nightmare and sent you home crying five days a week (cue flashback sequence).
I'm talking about the bullies who take over your bird feeders.
Common Bully Birds
If you have a bird feeder, then you've seen a bully. It's the bird that flushes all the other birds off the feeder and then proceeds to chow down. They don't share, and uninterrupted, a flock of bullies can clean out a seed feeder in a few hours or devour a suet cake in a single day.
Among the most common bully birds you'll find at feeders are:
- American crows
- rock pigeons
- brown-headed cowbirds
- common grackles
- blue jays
- red-winged blackbirds
- house sparrows
- European starlings
Fortunately, we're not in sixth grade anymore, and there are ways to stop bully birds.See also: How to Successfully Squirrel-Proof Your Bird Feeders
3 Strategies to Get Rid of Bully Birds
These three strategies and their tactics are proven to get rid of bully birds. I've successfully used many of them myself and so have the customers who visit the bird and nature store where I work. If one tactic doesn't solve the problem, try another one.
1. Offer Foods Bully Birds Don't Like
Many bully birds prefer to eat bread and seed blends that include corn, millet, wheat, and sunflower seeds. One way to discourage bully birds is to get some of these foods and place them on the ground away from your other feeders.
But if your goal is to discourage bully birds from coming around at all, you'll want to avoid these foods entirely. Try safflower seed and thistle seed (Nyjer® seed) instead.
Few bully birds like safflower seed. Safflower seeds are bitter and birds like the European starling, red-winged blackbird, and common grackle won't eat them. An added plus is adult squirrels won't eat safflower seeds either!
If you only offer safflower seed and nothing else, you'll rid yourself of many bully birds. And don't worry about your other birds. With safflower seed and one or two weeks to allow for them to adjust to the change, you'll still attract finches, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, and grosbeaks.
Thistle seed is another seed bully birds don't like. Thistle has a shell (so does safflower) that some bullies, like house sparrows, would rather not deal with. And unlike other seeds birds enjoy, thistles seeds have a different shape and are super small.
The feeders used to offer thistle seed present a second deterrent. Thistle feeders have tiny feeding ports, and bully beaks can't reach into them to get to the seed.
2. Select a Feeder That Will Deter Larger Birds
A caged feeder can solve a lot of bully bird (and squirrel) problems. The holes in the cage are typically too small for larger bully birds to enter so, the seed remains out of reach.
The downside is most cages won't accommodate medium-sized birds like Northern cardinals. The upside, however, is woodpeckers with their incredibly long tongues will still be able to reach in and eat.
You can also use a feeder that has short or collapsible perches.
Bully birds are bigger than most of the more “desirable” birds and, like a large airplane compared with a smaller twin-engine plane, they need more runway to land. The smaller the perch, the more difficult it will be for a bully to land and hang on.
Similarly, there are feeders that come with collapsible perches. One that is sufficiently sensitive will be fine for small to medium-size songbirds but won't support the weight of heavier birds. They'll collapse under the weight leaving the bully with nothing to perch on.See also: How Do Birds Survive Winter?
A neat trick is to get an upside-down feeder. You can find seed and suet feeders that require birds to cling or, as the name implies, feed upside down. These are two things starlings can't do but that woodpeckers, goldfinches, and other smaller birds do naturally.
Using a weight-activated feeder is also a viable choice. The creators designed these feeders to deter squirrels, but you can adjust some of them to account for unwanted birds.
Adjusting these feeders is typically a matter of playing with the sensing mechanism (usually a spring). You'll need to tweak the mechanism to be more sensitive to bully birds that are lighter than squirrels, but heavier than most other birds.
3. Find a Bully's Weakness and Use it Against Them
Lots of bullies are insecure about something. Find it and suddenly you've got the upper hand.
It's no different for birds. If you understand a bit about their behavior, you can find a solution that exploits a vulnerability.
Baffles and Weather Guards
Starlings avoid any kind of covering, which makes adding a baffle or weather guard to your current feeder another great solution. Hang your seed or suet up high under the cover, and they'll likely leave it alone.
You could also purchase a dome feeder that has a tray with a dome-shaped cover. The effect is the same.
Crows are intelligent and social, and if they sense danger they keep their distance and let all other crows know about it.
If you're crowded with crows, buy a decoy crow and lay it on the ground near your feeder. The crows will find it, gather in a mob, and kick up a racket while they “mourn” what they think is a dead companion.
In fact, the crows aren't mourning. They're engaging in a highly intelligent behavior that enhances their survival.
According to John Marzluff of the University of Washington in Seattle, once exposed to a threat, crows will “recognize and avoid an area or thing that they deem dangerous to their own species.” And they'll warn other crows of the danger. Then they'll avoid the area or leave entirely… sometimes for months at a time.
Grant Me the Wisdom to Accept What I Cannot Change
As a child, my dad taught me how to grow a garden. He also taught me to plant a little extra for the rabbits. They were going to come hopping around anyway, so why not accept that they will share in my bounty and enjoy them?
I'm sure at least one of these suggestions will solve your bully bird problem. But if you are the one in 1,000 for whom none of them work, then maybe putting out a little more seed is the way to go. If they're going to fly eat your seed and suet anyway, why not enjoy them?