Running the Grackles Out of Town

In our last post, we talked about the Common Grackle. If you missed it, suffice it to say, common grackles invading your backyard is like the old Hollywood Westerns where the gang of outlaws rides in, takes over the town and bullies the townsfolk.

Just as you could tell who the bad guys were in the old movies because they wore black hats, grackles wear black feathers. And they use their size and aggressive attitude—combined with the fact that they usually arrive in groups—to intimidate and chase away the other birds.

Not only do they eat virtually everything in your feeders, they also steal food from other birds, invade other birds’ nests and eat their eggs and nestlings. Grackles have even been known to eat other, smaller, adult birds.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a bird version of John Wayne or Gary Cooper to come to the rescue. So, what do you do?

ONE: Learn to like watching grackles in your yard.

Not an option for us, but somebody might like watching them.

TWO: Pull in your feeders.

While this may work if you’re in a migratory path and the grackles will only be around for a few weeks, here in Florida it would mean giving up the joy of watching the cardinals, jays, sparrows, flitters, finches, and doves outside our window.

THREE: Make your yard less attractive to grackles.

Admittedly, it’s a challenge to exclude birds you don’t like but still attract birds that you want in your yard. With a grackle, our best suggestion is to use their size against them.

Grackles are relatively large birds and need to land to feed. So, don’t use tray feeders or feeders with platforms . . . and take a saw to long sturdy perches on other feeders.

Many smaller birds, like chickadees, are extremely athletic, so clinging on a totally perchless feeder is not a challenge for them . . . like it would be for the bigger, more cumbersome grackles.

Tube feeders with small opening screen cages allow small birds to feed easily, but block access to larger birds.

Suet cage feeders that only allow birds to feed from the bottom and force birds to cling upside down have proven to be grackle resistant. Smaller, more acrobatic birds like chickadees, titmice, finches, nuthatches, and woodpeckers are easily accommodated.

Another, more expensive, option, is a feeder with an adjustable, weight-activated perch. Access to the seed will close when a heavy bird (or squirrel) stands on the perch, but the feeder remains open when a small bird lands. (Before you buy one, make sure that the weight-activation mechanism can be fine-tuned to exclude grackles—and not just squirrels.)

Another way to discourage grackles is by not using a seed mix with fillers like corn. Grackles love corn.

Their least favorite seed is safflower, followed by nyjer seed. As we mentioned in an earlier post, cardinals, woodpeckers, chickadees and ground-feeding doves (among others) are attracted to safflower seed. Nyjer seed attracts goldfinches, purple finches, and house finches.

And since grackles are happy to feed on the ground, using sunflower seeds to attract titmice, nuthatches, finches and others eliminates much of the ground droppings because there is little to no waste.

Grackles have proven to be adaptable and stubborn. But the more you know about them, the better prepared you’ll be to run them out of town.

© 2019, Sawyer Creative, LLC

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