Watching birds congregating at your feeders in winter is a rewarding experience. However, when a flock of bully birds moves in, the smaller songbirds will get crowded out while the larger species gobble up every bit of food you’ve set out.
Not only is this frustrating, but it can get very expensive as your bird seed gets quickly used up. However, there are some very effective strategies that you can employ to keep bully birds at bay, not just in winter but year-round.
1. What Are Bully Birds?
If you’ve ever tried feeding birds in winter, you’ll probably know which species are bullies at the feeders.
While some of them are native to North America, others have been brought here from Europe and have been very successful at multiplying, posing a threat to native species.
Blue jays are one of the worst bullies. It’s a pity, because their gorgeous blue plumage certainly brightens up gloomy winter days. However, this native species can quickly clear out a feeder, leaving nothing for the smaller songbirds.
Brown-headed cowbirds are relentless. If you lay out a feast of their favorite food, including corn, sunflower seeds, and millet, they can empty the feeder in a matter of minutes, leaving smaller species with nothing.
They’re also a menace in the breeding season, as they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. And since they’re a native species, they’re protected by law.
Mourning doves look big and goofy, but give them unlimited access to food, and they’ll clean it up fast. Other birds won’t have a chance.
Grackles look pretty with their iridescent feathers, but they are relentless when they take over a yard. Quite aside from their bullying ways, they also leave copious droppings over all surfaces, making a mess.
European starlings are not native, as their name implies, but since 100 were released in Central Park in New York City in the 1890s, there are now about 200 million of them all across North America.
While most bully birds are large, one of the most ubiquitous, the house sparrow, is small but fierce.
Not only do they compete with native species for food in winter, but they also are quite aggressive in fighting for nesting boxes and cavities in the breeding season, with a reputation for shoving other species out of those homes.
2. Select A Menu With Bully Birds In Mind
One of the most effective ways to combat bully birds is switching up your feeder offerings.
Most of them prefer foods such as corn, millet, and sunflower seeds. Of course, these all tend to be the main ingredients in the cheapest seed mixes that you can buy.
Instead, switching to safflower and Nyjer seeds will eliminate visits from many of the bully birds, as they simply don’t like them.
While they cost more, you won’t have to buy anywhere near as much over the average winter once you’re not feeding grackles, house sparrows, blue jays, and brown-headed cowbirds.
3. Buy Feeders That Keep Bully Birds Out
Not all bully birds will be deterred by a change in diet, however. Mourning doves will quite happily chow down on safflower seeds spread out on a window ledge or platform feeder.
That’s when it’s time to invest in some new feeders.
Look for squirrel-proof feeders to keep the bigger birds away. There are 2 main types that will work just as well for bully birds as squirrels.
Caged feeders have a cage around an inner feeding tube or platform. While the openings are too small for large birds, small songbirds can easily get through and reach the food.
Weight-activated feeders have a mechanism that will cut off access to the seeds when too heavy an animal or bird lands on a perch. They’ll soon give up trying and leave the small birds to eat in peace.
Once again, you’re looking at an initial cost that is higher than buying feeders that don’t offer these features. However, once you aren’t feeding a huge flock of mourning doves every day, it’s amazing how much longer your seed supply will last!
4. Baffle The Bully Birds
Suet feeders are extremely popular with species such as woodpeckers, and many other birds will also take advantage of this concentrated source of calories.
While adding hot pepper to a suet cake will deter mammals like squirrels and chipmunks, bully birds like starlings can consume one in a day.
However, they don’t like being underneath anything, so adding a baffle above the suet feeder, or hanging one that is only accessible from underneath, will keep them away.
5. Keep Things Clean
Many bully bird species are natural ground feeders, so even if they can’t get seed from your feeders, they may find enough to keep them around underneath. After all, birds can get quite messy and drop a fair number of seeds when eating at a feeder.
Even if they can’t get into a feeder, they may still be close enough to intimidate the smaller species.
An easy solution is to set a garbage can on the ground directly underneath the feeder. Birds are reluctant to fly into an enclosed space like that, even if there is some food at the bottom.
6. Offer Bully Birds Alternative Locations
Don’t give up entirely on the bully birds, however. You can set up feeders for them at a distance from your main feeding stations.
They’ll be perfectly happy with inexpensive or homemade platform feeders on a post. Stock them with peanuts, shelled or not, corn, and other cheap seeds.
It’s best to keep these feeders within sight of your house, so that not only can you see when they need re-stocking, but also enjoy the sight of these birds as well as your songbirds.
7. Keeping Birdhouses Bully-Free
Of course, it’s not just in winter that bully birds are a threat to your smaller feathered friends.
For instance, starlings will take over every birdhouse you’ve got if you let them. However, if you set a small mirror on the back wall opposite the entrance, that will scare off these non-native interlopers, while desirable inhabitants won’t be affected.