Bad Birds at Feeder
June 12, 2005 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have an idea of how to discourage crows, magpies and other large birds from taking over my bird feeder, excluding the smaller song birds? I've been using wild bird feed from Costco, which the little guys love, but so do the big guys. Not only do the little guys not get in as much as they were, but I'm going through feed at a horrendous pace (about a quart a day.) I've thought of putting out a sign: "Compacts Only; Violators Will be Owled", but I'm guessing these bums would flout the posting, and it would be tough to train an owl to be sufficiently selective. Thanks for ideas...and no, I will not consider use of explosives.
posted by rabbus to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Try safflower seeds - I've read that sunflower seeds or seed mixes appeal to lots of birds, but safflower seeds are sour to the bigger birds (crows, ravens, starlings and the like).

Alternatively (and I guess this might be hard to do depending on the kind of bird feeder you have), you can put screen around the feeder with holes small enough for the little birds' heads, but too small for the big birds to get through.

Good luck!
posted by roundrock at 7:19 AM on June 12, 2005

Get a tube-style feeder; the perches are usually small enough that the larger birds can't get a foodhold.
posted by Jeanne at 8:05 AM on June 12, 2005

Thistle feeders are good for attracting smaller birds. The seeds are a bit more expensive but the big birds and squirrels won't be eating it.
posted by artanis at 8:14 AM on June 12, 2005

Seconding Jeanne: we have the standard Droll Yankee feeders and we get cardinals, finches, and sometimes blue jays but not crows, grackles, &c, which are certainly common here (eastern Massachusetts).
posted by nicwolff at 8:32 AM on June 12, 2005

1) a quart a day of wild bird seed isn't that much. My birds go through a gallon a day. (The finches don't go through that much volume, but a five pound bag of thistle seed lasts about as long as a 40 pound bag of mixed seed.)

2) find out what kind of seed the little birds like, and put that out in one feeder. Put sunflower and millet seeds in a different feeder for the bigger birds.

I've got doves, crows, bluejays, red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, bluebirds, two kinds of finches, lots of sparrows, swallows, flickers, and a pair of downy woodpeckers eating in my backyard at different times and feeders. When I'm filling the big feeder, the little birds usually don't come to the feeder when the big birds are there. I have found that if there's food in the feeder all day, the little birds just come at a different time. (I have also seen sparrows gang up on the bigger birds and drive them off until the sparrows are done....)
posted by jlkr at 8:35 AM on June 12, 2005

As mentioned, it's all in the design of the feeder and the food you put in it. Decide which species you want to feed, then see if there's a feeder designed for them. It won't be 100% selective, but probably good enough. See if there's a Wild Bird Center in your area (it's a nationwide franchise) and ask them for advice. They'll know your local species and their feeding habits.

You may have to try several different types of feeders, and seeds, before you work out a combination that suits you and your preferred guests. Tray-type feeders are the least selective, but the food you put in them can make a huge difference. I want to feed scrub jays but not pigeons (I live in the city) or sparrows, so I put whole peanuts in the shell in the tray feeder. The jays love 'em and the others can't figure out what to do with them.
posted by Quietgal at 9:22 AM on June 12, 2005

I have a feeder similar to this--it keeps out jays, starlings, crows, squirrels, etc. I get chickadees, finches, nuthatches, sparrows, wrens, and the occasional Red-Shafted Flicker(their beak and tongue are long enough to reach the seeds even though they're too big to get through the grid.)
posted by lobakgo at 9:35 AM on June 12, 2005

I have one that is supposed to be squirrel proof and adjustable. When set right it closes and does not allow the larger birds to feed.
posted by caddis at 11:08 AM on June 12, 2005

Most of what is sold as "wild bird blend" consists of filler seeds, millet, cracked corn, oats and milo, with only token amounts of oil sunflower or safflower thrown in. For the most part, the only birds that like this filler are the birds you list as having taken over your feeder and also sparrows.

As roundrock said, switch to straight safflower, a white seed you can get anywhere you buy birdseed. You might mix it with your current blend for the first couple times to get your "good" birds used to it. The bad birds will still be around for this transition, but since they all find their food by sight, the stark contrast between the normal seed and the white safflower can throw them off. This will take care of grackles and black birds (it probably has something to do with taste, but I don't think there's any official studies about it). Squirrels also don't care for it. You'll see the undesirables pick at it from time to time, but no where near what they're doing to your current blend.

Starlings are another matter, and if you continue to have problems with them, then a feeder configured to shut off at a certain weight is your best bet. Here is an example of one of the best available models and might be what caddis has (disclaimer: my father owns a WBU store, but you won't be buying it from him given that there isn't a costco within several hundred miles of him). You can get much cheaper versions, but make sure they have warranties. The springs involved are prone to breakage and most of the costco/petco/hardware store places will tell you that you're SOL if something happens to it. The feeder I linked, (and a non-WBU-branded version that is the same except green and $5 cheaper) hold up very well. You can set the tension on the spring to close at any weight, and since nuisance birds usually come en masse, you have a lot of wiggle room.
posted by jaysus chris at 7:02 PM on June 12, 2005

Thanks, all. I'm heading to the bird seed store to try out the safflower seeds. If that works, I'll let you know. If it doesn't, I'll try a new feeder as suggested, which I'd rather not do because I really like the looks of this one, but it is a tray feeder....
posted by rabbus at 8:04 AM on June 14, 2005

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