Ask SIB … What can I do for Starling invasion?

We often receive questions about birds from our members and residents of Seabrook Island. This week, Carl recently sent us this question:

Starlings have taken over my feeders. They discovered it about a month ago. Now they arrive each morning and occupy every feeding slot for hours, consuming lots of birdseed and depriving the finches, chickadees, titmice, cardinals, wrens, sparrows, etc. With the starlings dominating the feeder, I doubt that we will see painted buntings this year.
Will these starlings move on or is this the new normal?
Any suggestions?

Carl, Deer Point
European Starlings at Feeder – Birdwatching HQ

Joleen Ardaiolo provided the following response:

This is a great question and one that most people who have bird feeders have needed an answer to at one time or the other, especially with various species of “bully birds.” I have had problems in the past with American Crows, Boat-tailed Grackles, and even Blue Jays at the end of their nesting season. Your question comes at an interesting time because at present, I am  having the same issue with Red-winged Blackbirds.

Because I have had problems in the past with bully birds, I had already made some adjustments to the feeders I use.  First, I decided to use smaller tube feeders. These have smaller perches that make it more difficult, even though not impossible, for large birds to perch on comfortably to eat. If the large bird does land on this feeder it won’t stay long. You might think that you will need to fill these feeders more often, but if you just have smaller birds eating at these feeders, you probably won’t be filling them more than once a week. Also, leaving seed in a tube feeder much longer will result in the seed at the bottom going rancid.

I also have used cages on my tube feeders when certain bully birds were being aggressive. These allow only small birds to get close to the feeder. This might be a great option for Painted Buntings since I have read that they are not group feeders. You could put out a couple small caged tube feeders that only contain millet, their seed of choice. Perhaps feeding inside the cage will make them feel more protected.

As for the other birds that you want to attract, I have found that using a tray feeder with a dome top works really well. The dome top is adjustable to only allow in the size bird that you want to feed. I have mine adjusted to allow in birds up to Northern Cardinal size and fill it with sunflower and safflower seed to make everyone happy.

One of the staff members from Wild Birds Unlimited also suggested I bring in my feeders for a few days to encourage the offending birds to go elsewhere for their snack. I read that European Starlings are ground feeders, so eating from your feeders might be more opportunistic than natural for them. I have seen flocks of Starlings on the ground at the Equestrian Center and farm fields so they might just need to be urged to move on.

I am hopeful that these suggestions will help, but I would also like to encourage anyone else who might have had success with getting rid of bully birds at their feeders to respond to this post.

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