The Avant-Garden Shop: Your Garden & Bird Store

Garden Tips: Begone, Vile Interlopers! (on Grackles & Starlings)

Common Grackles and European Starlings are unpopular with many, because they raid bird feeders and leave nothing for other species. I’m often asked how to solve this problem.

If you adjust the seed you offer and the types of feeders you use, you can successfully exclude these unwanted species and attract the ones you want.

Here are my tips:

Northern Cardinals

Cardinals are shy and prefer a quiet feeder. They also have short necks so like to feed from flat surfaces. Most people see them on the ground, because they can’t comfortably feed from a perch.

Most birds don’t like safflower, but cardinals do (as do doves and pigeons). Domed cardinal feeders (Dorothy’s cardinal feeder & the Aspects Vista Dome) work well for cardinals, but you need to be patient: it took 6 months for my cardinals to start using it. Now I see them almost every day. You can lower the top dome to keep doves out, if you wish.

Red-winged Blackbirds
Red-winged Blackbirds like small seed, so they can often be seen cleaning up on the ground. They also feed from finch feeders. Their beaks are thick, but their tips are small enough that they can get them in the small openings, whereas grackle and starling bare too large for them to feed from finch feeders.


American Goldfinches
American Goldfinches love nyger seed and feeding from nyjer feeders with tiny ports. They like to feed from upper perches and are more attracted to full feeders.

Nyger seed must be fresh, because the goldfinches are after the oil inside the seed. Older seed could be rancid or dried out, and the finches will ignore it. I’ve encouraged many customers to try our nyger before replacing the feeder they think the finches don’t like, and it always works!

Woodpecker like peanut feeders, as do starlings and grackles. I add a squirrel-proof cage to exclude grackles and starlings. Black-capped Chickadees, White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, and even Hairy Woodpeckers will use this feeder with the cage. If I didn’t have the cage, I would remove the peanuts.

The cage fits up to a 16” feeder, with tube feeders being best. If you use a wider feeder, the pesky birds can sometimes reach their head inside and get a reward.

Shifting food sources & modifying feeders
When grackles and starlings show up, I change my seed to our “squirrel free” blend, which they shy away from. This blend lacks sunflower seeds and peanuts, which grackles and starlings prefer.

Grackles and starlings don’t flutter well and will leave a feeder if they there’s nowhere for them to land. I remove the perches on my Squirrel Buster plus to take away a landing spot for them. This, plus using the “squirrel free” blend, make things difficult and unappealing to grackles and starlings.

Final tip
The brightness of the yellow in goldfinches is a result of the nutritional value of their food. Our NyChip blend is a mix of Nyger and hulled/chipped sunflower seeds, which are small enough to fit through the small feeder ports. This mix attracts a few other birds in addition to finches.

Goldfinches turn an olive colour in the fall. If you have good evergreens like spruce you may see some through the winter.

~ Brenda

The Avant-Garden Shop