Thursday, April 9, 2009

What to do about blackbirds?

Is this scene similar to what you've seen in your backyard recently?
It must be spring when the "blackbirds" return, right? Many people are trying to deal with this problem right now and I wanted to do this blog post to give you some ideas and solutions that have worked in my backyard.

Blackbirds are generally lumped into one group, but usually consist of several different types of birds: common grackles (iridescently colored black feathers and yellow eyes), brown-headed cowbirds (as the name implies, they have a brown-ish colored head--most easily seen in bright sunlight), European starlings (mostly black with lighter colored speckles and a long yellow beak), and red-winged blackbirds (I think you can figure that one out!)

Except for the non-native European starling, I believe it's illegal to kill the other 3 species as they are considered native, migratory songbirds and I believe in most towns and cities, it's probably illegal to discharge a firearm anyway -- even a BB gun. So here are several solutions that you might want to try in your backyard.

If you're really desperate, you can just stop filling your birdfeeders or take them down and eventually the blackbirds will move on. Of course, you will deny yourself the pleasure of seeing all the other spring and summer feeder birds, like rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, chipping sparrows, etc., but that is the best alternative for ridding your yard of black birds.

If you decide to leave your feeders out, one of the seeds you can fill them with is safflower seed. This seed looks kind of like a small, white sunflower seed.
It's a little more expensive than sunflower seeds, but you should be able to find it easily wherever you normally purchase your birdseed. It also has the added benefit of discouraging squirrels (they don't like the bitter taste either).
You will find that many other birds will still eat safflower seed, including house finches, mourning doves, cardinals, and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Oh yeah, it doesn't discourage all blackbirds either......I spotted this one silly red-winged blackbird eating it last week!
I like red-winged blackbirds, so I don't mind these guys hanging around the feeders close to the house.

Another technique you can try is to buy a less expensive seed or seed blend and put that in feeders farther out in your yard in an attempt to keep the less desirable blackbirds away from your house. This blend I use contains cracked corn, white millet, black sunflower seeds, and safflower seeds. This seed blend runs me about $19 for 50 lbs.
I put this seed blend in my open trays and ground feeder trays which are placed farther away from the house. Lots of different birds enjoy this seed blend including mourning doves, bluejays, cardinals, sparrows, juncos, and even indigo buntings. (Sophie isn't eating the seed, just checking out all the interesting bird scents around the feeder.)
You might find some possums or bunnehs partaking of the bounty in your ground feeder trays too!
This picture was taken last Sunday morning after our overnight snowfall.

Another alternative to discourage blackbirds from your feeders is to put your tube feeders inside "cages." I have my good "cardinal blend" seed in these tube feeders and the cage works for keeping the big, piggy birds and squirrels out. Chickadees, goldfinches, downy woodpeckers and other small birds can still get to the seed. The downside of the protective cages is that it also keeps the larger birds you want to feed (like cardinals and rose-breasted grosbeaks) away from the feeders.

Starlings and grackles also really like peanuts (shelled and in-the-shell), so if you're going to offer peanuts for your backyard birds, it's best to put them in a feeder that doesn't have perches. Grackles and starlings don't have good clinging abilities, although they may be able to hold onto a feeder like this for a few seconds or long enough to knock out a peanut or two.
Their love of peanuts also extends to suet with peanuts or peanut butter in it and I've seen them devour an entire block of suet in a day, so I generally put my suet away or inside a protective cage (like you've seen in past pictures I've posted on this blog).

Another reason we have so many common grackles in our yard is the habitat. When I planted hundreds of evergreen trees 20+ years ago, I was only thinking about how great they would be for windbreaks and sound barriers when they got big. What I didn't realize was that common grackles LOVE large evergreens for nesting in. And boy, do we have large evergreens now!
So for the next couple of months, I'll just have to deal with having a bunch of grackles hanging around the yard.

The nice thing that I've noticed for the past several years is that generally once the grackles have raised and fledged their first batch of babies, many of them depart the backyard in early July. I don't know if this is due to the fact that there are more food sources available for them in the countryside (oats and corn fields starting to ripen) or if they just begin their migration early, but I'm not sorry to see them go. A few will still hang around the backyard, but it's nothing like the huge numbers I'm seeing now in the early spring.

I hope this post has been helpful for you. Dealing with blackbirds takes a little bit of patience and perseverance, but if you make the choice to leave your birdfeeders up over the summer months, you will be rewarded with seeing a good variety of our spring and summer migrants and also the joy of seeing the young birds coming to your feeders and being fed by their parents.

Happy birdfeeding!


dAwN said...

Looks like you live in a park..beautiful evergreens.
Thanks for all the great info on dealing with those crazy birds.

Kelly said...

...beautiful yard! good thing. The Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds chase the starlings away! Thanks for the tips!

Kallen305 said...

Love this post. I had no idea that Grackles liked pine trees so much. I only get a couple of the blackbirds in my yard so I don't mind feeding them.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

It cracked me up seeing those bunnehs in your feeder. They can't get into my flat feeder but they do graze under the feeders.

Jayne said...

Great tips Ruthie! So far, I have been lucky. I think there are so many corn fields and such around here that they pretty much stay out of my yard and feeders, thankfully.

Mama Pea said...

Super-informative post, Ruthie. Thanks for educating someone like me who has learned so much just by reading your blog.

Even in its still early, early spring state, your yard looks lovely. Makes me feel there's hope for us up here, too!

Ruth said...

Very interesting information. I have few blackbirds, but have far more trouble with squirrels and house sparrows.

Anonymous said...

Since out yard is surrounded by evergreens you know what we have, and lots of them. Ususally the east side of the house is plastered with you-know-what, but the power washer takes care of that. By July they are all gone, Hurrah-Hurrah.


Marsha said...

Our yard is surrounded with evergreens as well and so the grackles come back every year. I have to say, I think this spring is the worse! The farmer didn't get the cornfield plowed before the early freeze up last fall, so DH thinks that is what kept more of them around as there was more food out there for the migrators.

Anonymous said...

Now I know why they bake blackbirds into a pie! I feel like doing the same thing :/

I wouldn't mind feeding them, especially if they would eat normal portions. What I find annoying is that they won't let anyone else eat! Arrrgh!

Thanks for the good tips and for giving me hope that they might actually leave in July!

Charlotte said...

Thanks for the info! For all having trouble with squirrels... this is the best anti squirrel feeder there is. The metal cage comes down due to the weight of the squirrel and the decorative leaves cover up the feeding holes. The birds can enjoy it though. It is very amusing to watch the squirrels trying to get in it lol So far we have yet to see one that succeeded! And we have these feeders for 4 yrs now. Love it! :o)