Monday, May 30, 2011

Battling the Starlings

Over the course of a year, I get a lot of visitors to my balcony, drawn in by four different feeders offering options for birds. I added a suet feeder late in 2009 after being briefly visited by a Townsend's Warbler in the snow. The suet feeder gets regular visits from chickadees, bushtits, nuthatches and a flicker. Drop-ins have included warblers and a Downy Woodpecker.

A week ago, the starlings found my suet and proceeded to demolish it. Researching the problem, I ran across a few discussion boards where someone inevitably asked "why all the hate? They're just birds." So, briefly: starlings are a non-native intrusive species that some idiot introduced to this continent years ago. They are large, noisy, and they crap everywhere. They descend in a flock and eat all the suet while chasing off any other birds (except the flicker, who is much too large to be intimidated). Starlings are also persistent and creative, more or less the rats of the sky.

The nice people at the Backyard Bird Shop offered a couple of different solutions to replace my feeder and discourage the starlings. One approach is to use a bottom-only feeder that has the suet cake lying flat with a roof over it; birds have to cling underneath to eat the food. This is no problem for most of my visitors, like bushtits and nuthatches but in theory, starlings can't do that. In theory. Like I said, they're persistent and I read reports of starlings that had learned to cling.

So I went with the cage within a cage. The inner cage holds two suet cakes comfortably and the holes in the outer cage allow little birds simple access as you can see. (I was taking a photo of the feeder with my cell phone, standing about three feet away when the nuthatch showed up.) So I crammed in two cakes and came home to find that the starlings had eaten about half. It turns out that they can easily stand on top and drill down to the suet quite easily. Furthermore, the juvenile starlings can cram their heads in from the side and reach the food.

Back to the shop, where it turns out that my only real problem was putting in all the suet. The trick is to cut one cake in half lengthwise and put the two pieces in side by side. Then the starlings can't reach it from the top and the juveniles haven't been all that successful from the side of the cage. Soon their nasty heads will be too large to fit in. Meanwhile, not only can the little birds get in and out with ease but the flicker is actually having a much easier time hanging on to the feeder and his long neck fits through the outer hole easily.

So yay me. Boo starlings.


Pennie said...

I'm with you -- Boo starlings! Watch out for that OCD jay that visits our backyard.

Joel said...

My mother-in-law's maiden name is Starling. Just sayin'.