Saturday, November 15, 2008

Trapping Starlings

Warning: This post is all about trapping European Starlings. If you really like starlings or are totally against trapping and eliminating invasive, non-native bird species, STOP READING RIGHT NOW and go on to the next blog you usually read. I don't want any nasty comments from people who object to this practice. I realize I'm opening myself up to this by even putting this post on my blog, but if anyone else has a starling problem and is looking for advice or hints on how to trap starlings in their own backyard, this post may be helpful for you.

I want to start out by saying that it is not illegal to trap and kill starlings. Starlings (and house sparrows) are birds that are not native to the United States -- they were introduced from Europe back in the 1800's in New York City. Starlings and house sparrows are smart and adaptable to all environments and they're prolific breeders, so it didn't take long for them to populate the entire United States from coast to coast. Both breeds are cavity nesters which means that they live in bird houses, holes in trees excavated by woodpeckers and just about anywhere else they can find a hole or cavity to fly into--drain pipes, store signs, street lights, or attics in houses. Because of this, many of our native birds that nest in cavities (bluebirds, tree swallows, purple martins, woodpeckers, etc.) have experienced population declines due to the fierce competition for nesting sites from starlings and house sparrows. Starlings and house sparrows are very aggressive competitors for nesting sites and have been known to kill the native species -- even in the nest box! -- in order to take over and build a nest of their own (sometimes right on top of the birds they killed!)

Because I have nesting bluebirds in my yard in the summer and I'm still trying to attract purple martins, house sparrows and starlings are not welcome in my yard. I try to be tolerant of the starlings--especially in summertime because I know they eat alot of insects in the ground. Because I don't keep suet out in the summer, the starlings generally don't bother my birdfeeders at all. However, the single starling that showed up at my suet feeder the other day has now turned into a flock of 15-20 and that's beyond my limit of tolerance!

So I got my trap out of the garage this morning, set it on a board and baited it with suet (outside the trap and also inside). I believe that starlings are incapable of resisting suet or anything else with corn and/or peanuts in it. Here's a look at the baited trap.

I have strategically placed it right below the suet feeder they have been using in the tree. Sometimes if they drop a chunk of suet from above, they will fly down to find it--this is a good way to catch them also.

To be a responsible starling trapper, it is imperative that you monitor the trap to make sure you don't catch anything other than starlings. (Also, if you have to go away for awhile, please be sure to close the trap doors, or put the trap away.) Sophie is happy to assist me with the starling trap monitoring. She alerts me by barking if any birds go into the trap.

Sometimes starlings will also approach the trap from the ground as they're moving across the yard in search of food (this is why it's good to have the trap on a board--gives them easier access to the suet bait you've put outside the trap). I believe we have an adult and some juveniles in this picture.

OK, just hop inside please!


Now I put Sophie to work. She's excited to have a bird in the trap and quickly runs outside to bark at it until I get there and remove the bird from the trap. I hold the bird and Sophie quickly dispatches it with one or two chomps of her strong jaws. Gross? Yes, somewhat, but it's a much quicker dispatch than when I used to have to wring the bird's neck.

Starlings are amazingly intelligent. The trap will work for probably only a day or two at this location. Then I'll have to move it underneath a different suet feeder if I want to continue trapping these birds. In a few days (or weeks - depending on how long I have the trap out), the size of the starling flock has decreased and they have figured out my yard is not the ideal place for them to be and they move elsewhere.

You may think I'm cruel and uncaring person for killing these birds, but I've seen the results of what they can do to our native cavity nesters. Finding an entire nest of baby tree swallows pecked to death in their birdhouse was enough to convince me that trapping and elimination measures were going to start taking place in my backyard.


Chicken Mama said...

You'll get no guff from me. We've each gotta do what we've each gotta do!

I'm glad that you illustrated the piece with photos, though, 'cause we don't have Starlings up here, so I didn't even know what they look like! Nifty trap, too!

And, as you said, the trap itself doesn't kill them, so it's a humane way to trap . . . in case another bird gets caught!

Windyridge said...

I'm with you 150%. I hate those birds and the noise they make. Trap away woman!

Mama Pea said...

What an informative post! I, for one, learned a lot about starlings that I didn't know before. Well written and the pictures add so much. Thanks for being big and brave enough to stand up for your beliefs and tell it like it is. Well done!

Debbie said...

I'm right there with you, Ruthie, although we don't have the numbers of Starlings here that you report.

For me it is the English Sparrows. I had two clutches of baby bluebirds killed last year. We have a couple box traps for them and I'll admit to becoming a very good shot with the pellet gun.

KGMom said...

I don't object--after all, it is nature red in tooth and claw.
What I find sad--if that's the right word--is that starlings and English sparrows didn't fly here on their own. Humans brought them here, and now the birds pay the price for humans' interference.
Ah me--heaven help us if we ever encounter a bigger predator than we are--shades of Independence Day (the movie)!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Chicken Mama,
There's a Waste Management facility right across the highway from us and there are always dozens of starlings hanging out over there--I guess when the pickins are slim over there, they just migrate over to my backyard.

Hi Windyridge,
They have been shrieking and fighting over suet all day--not to mention pooping on everything!

Thanks Mama Pea, I think there are other folks who may be considering trapping in their backyards, so I wanted people to have an idea of what's involved. It's definitely something that takes some thought, planning and responsibility.

Hi Debbie,
I also use birdhouse traps in the spring and summer for house sparrows.

Hi Donna,
Yes, you're definitely isn't the birds fault and now I'm another human interfering. Plus, I've heard that starling numbers are actually declining in Europe.

Mary said...

Good job, Ruthie. Spring and summer are my worst times with Starlings where I might have 40-50 at a time in May-June, including juveniles (I stopped feeding for two weeks then). They're horrible. The screaming and mess made me sick. Meanwhile the HOSP were growing to be a HUGE FAMILY and you already know the rest of the story. Sigh.

I agree with you. If we can eliminate them, we save our sweet, native songbirds.


Susan Gets Native said...

You are preaching to the choir here, you know.

Donating the "food" to a local raptor center is a good idea, too. Good for Coops and peregrines.
That's what KatDoc does for me!
I call her car the "bird hearse".
: )

Kallen305 said...

The starlings in my yard are rather tame. They eat the berries on my trees and leave the suet alone. I have a suet feeder they can't figure out how to feed off of.

The House Sparrows drive me INSANE. They are not as bad as they were in the summer, but they are still bothering me. They have suddenly developed a strong like for safflower(sp?) seeds and spill it out on the groud.

While I could never trap myself (I am a whimp and can't even kill a spider), I totally understand why people do it. Blue birds and our other native birds are far too important and precious, so if trapping is one way we can help them thrive and grow, than I totally support it.

troutbirder said...

We have them as occasional visitors here in Bluff Country. I do feel about Starlings as you do. You can also add feral cats to my list of songbird menaces.

Jayne said...

I probably should not even write this, but (knocking on wood as I type) I have not had one starling here on Chickadee, and hope never to have them again. Maybe because there are plenty of local corn crops and such, they are well fed and don't seek out yard feeders. I am not sure. I did see my first house sparrow last week, and if he hangs around, his days are numbered. Trap away Ruthie, trap away.

Anonymous said...

You go, girl! You know how I feel about starlings. Shelby always enjoyed "helping" me with them too! Since the numbers are dropping in Europe, maybe we should look into trapping them and sending all their sorry a**es back overseas!! I also use bottle rockets to "discourage" the flocks that sometimes appear near my house. I know it temporarily scares other birds away but I can't hear them anyway with all the screeching the starlings are doing. That noise just doesn't sit well with me, as you well know. Many a starling has met with an early demise in my trap :o
Your (native bird-loving) sissy

Anonymous said...

1 more rant.....
I looked back at the pictures and it seems so ironic that the starlings usually have 2,3 or 4 (or more) juveniles tagging along while I see only 1 or 2 baby woodpeckers with their parents. It just doesn't seem right that our native birds are so outnumbered by these ugly, destructive immigrants. Fortunately for me, house sparrows have never been a problem at my feeders. Thanks for letting me vent!!
Your (decompressed) sissy :)

Anonymous said...

Great idea! I've never lived with Starlings to much as those horrid sparrows...they make me crazy...

Shellmo said...

I think if this helps the other birdies whose populations are dwindling than so be it! I'm ready to take out my 2,000 house sparrows w/ my bebe gun!

Priscilla said...

Yay you! I didn't even know we could trap starlings.

If only there were a way to dispatch brown-headed cowbirds....

barefoot gardener said...

You'll get no trouble from me. Population control is an important part of any conservation effort. It isn't as if you are killing the last known flock of Starlings in the US, after all. Of course, I problably still wouldn't complain if you were. There are enough of them in other countries. ;)

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mare,
I was surprised when they showed up--the suet has been out for weeks and they've just finally found it. If it had just stayed at one, I probably would have tolerated them, but it's not just the suet, they also eat all the remaining crabapples that cedar waxwings, robins and the other fruit-eating native species that stay around for the winter like to eat.

I know Susan, but if I can help even one person make the decision to start trapping the non-native pests, then it's worth it.
Thanks for the tip about checking with a raptor center--there's a nature center nearby that I know took pocket gophers and I'll check to see if they're interested in starlings too.

Hi Kallen305,
Welcome to my blog and thanks for stopping by to comment. If I get desperate enough, I can switch to plain suet--the starlings mostly like the peanuts in the suet that's out there now. But ultimately, I'll have to get rid of as many as possible before spring and nesting season.

Hi Mr. P,
Welcome to my blog and thanks for stopping by to comment. I also have a plan for feral cats in the backyard, but that's never going to be shared on my blog!

Hi Jayne,
Keep knocking on that wood and I hope you never get a single starling either. House sparrows are enough to try and deal with.

Hi Sissy,
My trap looks new compared to yours, doesn't it? I believe I'm way behind you in the "starlings eliminated" scoring, but I'll continue to try and catch up.

Hi Martie,
There was a huge flock of sparrows chirping in one of my trees this afternoon -- that sounds makes me crazy too.

Hi Shelley,
Well it sounds like everyone's having many more problems with house sparrows than starlings. I've found that sparrows are harder to trap than starlings, but once I get my starling problem solved, I'll switch back to sparrows.

Hi Priscilla,
I get a few brown-headed cowbirds in the spring and summer and I hate that they lay their eggs in other birds' nests. I'm pretty sure it's against the law to trap or kill them though.

Hi Barefoot,
I wish it was the last starling flock! But they're just too darn adaptable as far as food and nesting places go, so my work will never be done. (sigh)

Marsha said...

Thank you for the narrative and "how to". I was wondering how it worked...does it also trap house sparrows. We have both here and the starlings were just roosting in the trees (and making noise) but the surrounding cornfield got harvested on Saturday and by Sunday they were on the suet feeders. This year I have more house sparrows then any other year I can remember and with sunflower seeds up to $20 a bag, I can't afford them, plus they are so messy using the feeders as a dinner table and bathroom. I have lots of tree swallows use my bird houses each year and this year the sparrows took over two of the houses even though I cleaned out their nests several times. I need to go trap shopping I think.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Marsha,
This trap is actually sold as a sparrow trap--it just happens to work well for starlings too.
When I use it as a sparrow trap, I just put it under the hanging feeder they're using most often and hope that some of them feeding on the ground will hop in. I will lay a piece of bread on lever inside and sprinkle a bunch of millet/cracked corn on the bread to help them notice it. The only thing you will have to watch out for is if you have a lot of groundfeeedng juncos in the same area who may be inclined to hop in for the millet too. Once it gets closer to spring (and nesting season), baiting the trap with stuff sparrows use for nesting (string, straw, fuzzy stuff, etc.) will also work to lure them in as they're looking for junk to fill their nests with.
Good luck to you and keep me posted on your trapping efforts when you decide to start.
The BB gun, .22 or a .410 are probably just as effective (if you can afford the ammo) and you live in the country, so no worries about the neighbors calling the sheriff with reports of gunfire in the area!

Meggie said...

Hey Ruthie: Your posts are always quite informative...I had no idea about the starlings. Thanks for the insight.

Beverly said...

Hey Ruthie,

I’m with you 100%...though I find them quite visually attractive birds, I also know they raise total havoc with our environment.

I feel the same way troutbirder does about feral cats (and posted as much but I didn’t get the response you’re getting! I got pages and pages of hostile vitriol from cat lovers (I just didn't post it)) It galls me no end that a damn cat had kittens in the brushpile out back! Ugg…

I like the idea of giving the birds (dead or alive) to a raptor center…they’d much appreciate that! I’d not want to feed the birds to my dog…they carry too many diseases these days.

That some states have begun allowing hunting of feral cats is a good thing; but, but rural as my town of some 900 folks is, I live IN the town limits and can’t shoot a gun here. If it’s not the damn cats, it’s the *&^%$#! squirrels tearing up my feeders and taking all the seed to store for their winter treats. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr We’re over-run with the big tree rats; I’ve seen six at a time at and on my feeders!

I’m not sure how good a shot I am anyway…but I’m about ready to start trapping critters myself. Seems to me that’s why we have tail-pipes on our vehicles.

[cough cough cough]

Anonymous said...


Just kidding!

Mike H.

Mary said...

Oh, so I see I'm not the only feeder to detests the vermin, can't afford to feed them, and am unwilling to clean up after their messes.

It's so peaceful out back without the feeders...a few sweet birds show up but not many. I dread hanging the feeders again because I know my blood pressure will raise at the first sight of a HOSP and Starling. I'll want to pick up the broom and go swinging.

Anonymous said...

These comments have been most enjoyable to read! You certainly got people's juices flowing. I can hardly wait to log on at night and read all the days' comments. LOL
Daughter #1 has taken a few shots at the occasional feral cat that lurks around my yard/feeders..... just enough to (hopefully) discourage their return for a day or 2. Keep up the good work.

Your sissy

RuthieJ said...

Hi Meggie,
I fed birds for years before starlings started showing up at my feeders, then when I learned more about them, I knew I had to start taking some "corrective actions."

Hi Beverly,
You're right - starlings are an attractive bird--I found one of their polka dotted feathers once and I was amazed by it. They do eat plenty of insects, but obviously once our Minnesota ground freezes, they have to resort to suet, fruit, or birdseed to survive (and that's their downfall in my backyard).

Sorry Mike, it's true! I'm not really the charming person *most* people think I am ;-)

Hi Mary,
I hope your sparrow education article gets some results (once you're published!) I would hate to see you give up birdfeeding altogether because of 'pest frustration.' But you're right, having to keep running to the window or outside to scare unwanted birds away is very stressful!

Hi Sissy,
Glad you're enjoying the comments, I am too. I've certainly generated lots of discussion (and you already know my opinion on feral cats!)

Anonymous said...

WOW! What a blog, I got so engossed in reading that I never left a comment. We don't have starlings, maybe cuz we have feral cats and Rick helps keep the population down. We may get an occasional starling, but that's it. I don't remember when you had so many comments on this one subject, 20+ amazing. (Hint do one on squirels I'll bet you'll surpass 20+).
I sure enjoyed your blog.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Sorry Ruth I never learned how to delete Blogs.

Mary said...

I think Mom was impressed :o)

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mom,
I took care of them for you! I'm glad you enjoyed reading this post. I don't think I can post about squirrels though, because I only have 1 - and he behaves himself.

Hi Mare,
For a few seconds there I thought my mom was turning into one of those comment trolls! ;-)

MojoMan said...

Very interesting post! Especially the part about your assistant.

This reminds me of the time Julie Zickefoose did an NPR commentary about killing sparrows she trapped in her bluebird boxes and caught all kinds of flak for 'playing God," etc. Many people are totally clueless regarding these non-native species and look at all birds as being the same. It's also true that folks a completely unaware about how devastating pet cats can be to local wildlife. They often think it's 'cute' and 'only natural' that Puddy brings home all manner of bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian. Don't get me started on bug zappers!

RuthieJ said...

Hi MojoMan,
Welcome to my blog and thanks for your comments. I did hear about Julie's sparrow killing controversy and also her post a few weeks ago re: feral cats stirred up some folks too.
I will admit that I'm not entirely comfortable "messin' with Mother Nature" as far as trapping these non-native birds goes.....seems to me that sometimes when we eliminate one problem, there's always another one to take it's place (or maybe I'm just thinking about this too hard?)

David S. said...

Great idea! Where did you get your trap, would love to know where I can get one ... or three!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Too bad it isn't like back in the days of old as the nursery rhyme states "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie".

RuthieJ said...

Hi David S,
It's called the ST-1 Wire Sparrow Trap. You can purchase it at the PMCA website ( or if you have a Wild Birds Unlimited store nearby, they may carry it or be able to order it for you. It's expensive, but worth it as far as I'm concerned.

LOL Lisa! There's not much meat on a starling though--4 & 20 would probably just fill a pie!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ruthie - The unfortunate fact is that these non-native species were brought here by human intervention & it will take human intervention to keep them from totally misplacing our native species by out-competing them for food & habitat. I once read that starlings & English sparrows were brought here by misguided devotees of Shakespeare's works. Whoever these people were decided that it would be a good idea to bring all of the animals & birds that were mentioned in his works to the U.S. Don't know for sure if that's true but I wish they hadn't come up with the idea (and followed through with it!). Too bad that it takes such extreme measures to keep these birds from taking over completely, but it's an ugly necessity! If the native birds could pick up a pen, I bet they'd write you a thank-you note for acting on their behalf. Great post! Your brother Dave

RuthieJ said...

Well thanks for your comment Brother Dave. I also read that same story about Shakespeare's devoted fans introducing those 2 bird species to the United States. I guess my drastic measures aren't going to decimate much of the non-native population--except for in my backyard--and that's my only goal for now.

Larry said...

I understand that sometimes we have to do things to control populations of birds or animals.If I had an opportunity to have bluebirds in my yard, I might consider controling the local starling population. I don't really have any animosity towards starlings or any other birds though.-Starlings seem pretty intelligent and were brought here over 100 years ago so I guess they're hear to stay.-Interesting post Ruthiej!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Larry,
You're right--the starlings are really intelligent and I haven't been able to trap anymore since I did this post a couple weeks ago. Although the suet seems to be lasting longer now and I haven't seen too many starlings hanging around lately either--maybe just leaving the closed trap sitting outside is enough of a deterrent for now!

SHalpin said...

I just found this on Technorati. Thanks for spreading the word. As a Purple Martin fanatic, any enemy of a starling is a friend of mine! ;) Check out my Blog if you'd like

Sheryl Johanson said...

I wait until the house sparrow starts to haul in nesting material into my purple martin house then I put the trap inside the compartment. Once the sparrow has become attached and decided on a particular nest compartment it is easy to trap them!
I have never had a problem with starlings until this year and am desperatly trying to trap them. My martin house has starling resistant cresent style enterance holes and although the starlings are unable to get in they are still hanging around.
I am using the same ground trap as you and have taken up your advice it is baited with suet/peanut butter.
My martins and bluebirds seem to know what I am doing and when I trap and kill a house sparrow they get excited!
Luv my birds.