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Are Starlings Taking Over Your Bird Feeders?

Are Starlings Taking Over Your Bird Feeders?

European starlings. Image by Richard Crossley.
European starlings. Image by Richard Crossley.

I was eating dinner outside in downtown St. Louis recently and observed a large flock of European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), known as a murmuration, select a group of trees in a nearby park for their nightly roosting spot. This is the time of year that Starlings finish raising their families and start living a more communal lifestyle, which will persist until the next spring breeding season.

A popular topic with customers at the store last winter was how to keep flocks of Starlings from eating all the food put out for the other backyard birds. This is a problem I WISH I had – I know that sounds strange. Starlings are my favorite bird, because I rescued a nestling nearly six years ago and raised her and adopted another one two years later. My Starlings Attila and Pooky are my beloved pets (as I’m writing this I have one my arm and one on my shoulder) and because of them I’ve done lot of reading about Starlings. I like to observe wild ones whenever I get the chance to see how their behavior and vocalizations are like or unlike my tame pair.

Unfortunately if a flock of Starlings descends in my yard, if I go to the window to watch them they immediately take off. So that is my first idea about how to keep Starlings away from your feeders – try putting the feeders within view of a window where there is human activity. Some birds are more tolerant of people, for example on my deck Carolina Wrens, Robins and Song Sparrows will not only tolerate me looking at them through the window but will sometimes accept my presence with them on the deck as well.

Another idea is to serve food that Starlings don’t like – that is difficult to do, since they eat almost anything. They cannot open the shells of sunflower seeds, so you might try feeding sunflower seeds with the shells on.

Another tactic I’ve seen recommended on other web sites is to remove perches on your feeders so that other birds can access the seeds but Starlings cannot because they say Starlings need a perch. Based on my own observations, I’m skeptical about this, but who knows, it might work on small feeders. I’ve seen Starlings cling to surfaces with no perch just fine, they even spread their short tails out like a woodpecker does to use as a prop, but the absence of a perch on a small tube feeder where there is not enough room to prop the tail might deter them. Another idea is to smear suet on a pine cone and hang it, allowing small clinging birds to access the suet but making it difficult for the Starlings. Others recommend putting wire mesh around the feeder that allows small birds in but excludes Starlings. That should work but of course will exclude all larger birds.

A squirrel baffle over a feeder is said to deter Starlings because they don’t like going under a cover. This I can believe – my two Starlings hate it when I pass a hand or arm over them, so I try not to do that. I also don’t cover their cage at night because it frightens them. They are also said not to like feeding while hanging upside down, so any feeder that makes the bird feed this way will probably not be attractive to them.

If you like Starlings but just wish they would give the other birds a chance too, you might also try providing a separate feeding area that appeals to Starlings more than other birds. A platform feeder stocked with cat food is perfect for Starlings. You could augment the cat food with vegetable and culinary herb scraps left over from your cooking if you have any, my two Starlings love vegetables, greens and herbs, both cooked and raw. Just leave out the avocados, onions and garlic – they are toxic to birds. There is a risk in this strategy, Starling flocks can be big enough to take over ALL the feeders if they are in the area – also you’ll get other animals – but it might be worth trying as a temporary measure to give your other backyard birds a break. If this type of feeder accidentally attracts crows and ravens, that can be a good thing, they will help drive off predatory hawks and falcons with their mobbing behavior.

You don’t have to rely only on feeders to attract birds. I’m not allowed to put out bird food where I live, so I provide a water feature that gives the birds filtered, and in the winter heated water for drinking and bathing. This attracts quite a few birds. I also have a lot of bird-attracting plants in my garden and when I’m able I leave the seed-heads standing all winter to provide food. Rose of Sharon, Purple Coneflower and Korean Hyssop seem to be particularly attractive to small birds such as finches. Woody plants like the Rose of Sharon will support the Starlings’ weight while feeding but many of the herbaceous plants won’t so the smaller birds can get a good chance at the seed. Starlings are imported to our continent – a greater proportion of native plants in your yard may bring an increase in native birds to give the starlings some competition. Areas of leaf litter also attract birds for invertebrate foraging – this is worth trying if you have an area of your yard that you don’t mind leaving in a more natural state. You can even include a dust bath area if you want to, since Starlings adore water baths and some other birds would rather have a dust bath.

Starlings have been doing what they do for 20 million years, and stopping them will not be easy. If it makes you feel any better, the fact that there are Starlings in the vicinity means that you will have fewer lawn grubs, tent caterpillars, Japanese beetles, stink bugs and other insect pests. Starlings are perfect eating machines for lawn grubs – their beaks have more force in the opening than the closing, and are suited for prying in the dirt and grass and exposing invertebrate prey – watch this great video to see this action from an insect’s point of view!

Help! I’m Being Predated by a Starling!

It might prove more productive to enjoy Starlings rather than try to fight them. Whichever way you want to go, it’s helpful to understand more about them. I recommend the following resources for learning more about Starlings.

Starlingtalk.com

An Unwelcome Success – The European Starling in America

Documentary Film

Do Starlings Talk?

Baby Bird Rescue 2014 – My attempt to save starling nestlings, and an account of how I developed an interest in starlings.

By Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann

Carolyn was raised in a DIY household. From an early age she was encouraged to try everything from baking to soldering. These days she enjoys paper crafts, mixed media crafts, sewing, ceramics, mosaics, gardening, making things out of wood, home decor projects and upcycling found items into useable and decorative objects.

In the past Carolyn has worked in the retail, web design, and marketing fields. She now works part time at Schnarr's as a cashier, helps with the store's marketing efforts, writes her own blog and craft tutorials, and teaches craft classes. Carolyn’s father introduced her to hardware stores, his tools, and the “stuff stash” that every DIYer collects. It’s no surprise that time spent at Schnarr’s makes her giddy in the presence of things you can use to create! She still loves working on projects with her Dad and it's a treat to make a joint trip to the hardware store!

Carolyn is excited for the opportunity to help Schnarr's customers enrich their lives with creative and fun projects. She wants as many people as possible to experience the joy that DIY projects have brought to her life.

Other places to share Carolyn’s passion for creating:

Carolyn Hasenfratz Design Blog - http://www.chasenfratz.com/wp/

Carolyn's Stamp Store - http://www.carolynsstampstore.com/catalog/index.php

Carolyn's Pinterest Boards - https://www.pinterest.com/chasenfratz/

17 replies on “Are Starlings Taking Over Your Bird Feeders?”

Thanks so much for your story.

I have a good variety of birds in my backyard, but you’re right about the starlings taking off if they see movement through the windows. If they’re hanging with a large group of grackles I go out and shake a white sheet and they sends them on down the block to poop on my neighbor’s car.

But I do have a starling we found when only 2 days old and he’s amazing. He has a large flight cage for night, but he gets up when we do, has breakfast with us and does his own thing during the day. He has a routine of spending time with each of us, certain nap times during which he is NOT disturbed. And he communicates in English. Full sentences 😉 two way conversations.

Awesome! What is your bird’s name? Their language abilities are amazing aren’t they? My two are good at making up new sentences out of words and phrases they’ve learned separately that make sense. If they make up a sentence that happens to be a question (such as “Are you with me?” made out of “Come with me” and “Are you ok?”) they’ll inflect it at the end like a question. How do they know to do that? They seem to have some understanding of parts of speech. For example from me they’ve learned “You’re a good birdie” and “You’re a sweet birdie”. Pooky now says “You’re a swell birdie” and Attila says “You’re a good Attila”. I never said either of those sentences, but they make sense. What is an example of your two-way communication? My birds don’t do much of that, at least not with words. But they are very good at reading my body language and responding to it. Sometimes they know when I want them back in the cage just from that and they are waiting for me in the cage for their treat before I even say anything. (They get a treat when they go in the cage on command.) Once the power went off in the afternoon from a storm and it was really dark outside and when the lights went off Attila said “Good night birdies!” I’m sure anyone who has lived with a starling has learned that it pays to talk to them a lot, you learn amazing things about their abilities that way!

Hi Carolyn!

Glad to meet you! It sounds wonderful to have 2 of them, are they the same age? Sweetie will be two years old this May. Sweetie combines words and phrases he’s learned to and he also does the question at the end of questions, it’s funny to hear.

He’s a late sleeper so around 11am I’ll start hearing ‘hello? hello? I’m ready to get up”. I work from home so it’s a hoot being around him all day long. If the bath in his cage isn’t quite right he’ll come to me and tell me ‘Sweetie’s ready to take a bath’ over and over until I go check it. He quite loud with his Mine! Mine! Mine! and tell us ‘uh uh’ when he doesn’t like what we’re doing or touching something of his.

I can send him to bed from anywhere in the house by asking him. (no treat, he just knows I won’t stop 😉
My sister who lives with me was the person he saw when he opened his eyes so he’ll tell her “love you, momma” and my husband is “poppa”. He has his own plate when we eat and NOBODY touches it.

If he wants you to come to him, he uses “step, come here”, which is funny to hear him doing it when he’s chasing a bug. When I get a call from the office, he jumps in front of me and starts with ‘Hi, Hon whatch’a doing” and continues on tell them what a good bird he is. Sometimes he’s tired and announces “ready to go to bed” and flies to his cage and if we’re talking or the tv is too loud he’s bangs his toys around yelling ‘ready to go to bed’ until we quiet down.
He has lots of other phrases, some we’ve never taught him I guess he picked up from tv. The best one is when we won’t let him out and he sits by the cage door, hand hung down sadly going “poor, poor, poor, POOR bird”

I love it when he perches on my monitor or by the window and goes into a long song using all of his phrases.

I look forward to hearing more about Attila and Pooky!

Attila will be 7 years old in May and Pooky will be 5 years old in June. Sweetie sounds hilarious! Yes having two of them is pretty nice, what could be better than having one starling? Having two of course! Lucky for me they get along so I don’t have to have separate cages. Yeah mine love to sit on the computer monitor or play with the keyboard while I’m working and they are very interested when I’m on the phone with someone and they make sure they are heard! I work from home part of the time. Mine occasionally say something off the wall that I’m not sure where they got the idea for it, then I never hear it again. For example, “Do you want dessert?”, “Attila you are so gay!” and “You’re a sleaze-bird!” I have a few videos of mine but they aren’t doing anything particularly interesting in them – I wanted to show Pooky’s first owner how he was doing (Pooky’s first owner raised him from 5 days old to three months old). https://www.youtube.com/user/carhasenfratz

Yeah I know what you mean about the zombie bird effect. I have a couple of sunbathing photos in this collection – https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1176293771765.26635.1360719899&type=1&l=778dbaf37d

My birds love cheese too! “Worms” and “Cheese” are the two foods they ask for by name, but I think Attila uses the word cheese to mean any food she REALLY likes.

Mine haven’t had the opportunity to take a ketchup bath, but I’m sure Attila wouldn’t hesitate. She likes salad dressing baths, vinegar baths, pickle juice baths, lime sparkling water baths, tea baths, coffee baths – anything acidic.

Adorable videos – thank you!

I am Kathy sister-love your starlings-was wondering if they continue say new words through the years–thanks Joanne

Yes, starlings do continue to learn new words and phrases throughout their lives. Every once in awhile they get in a creative mood and try out some new ones! If they really like them they add them to regular routines.

Hi Carolyn,

Just wanted to let you know that we lost Sweetie on Mother’s Day. He was sitting on my hand talking and began having a series of strokes. The vet did what she could but he passed in my hands. The hole that little miracle has left in our hearts is devastating.

Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear that. It must be a devastating loss. I lost two other baby siblings of Attila when I’d only had them a week and I was torn up! That’s kind of how my parakeet Rainbow passed when I was in eighth grade. He was swaying on his perch and fell into my hand with a stroke or heart attack or something. Terrible! He was about eight years old.

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