House Sparrows, Starlings, and Grackles
House sparrows, starlings, and grackles are three birds that you
do not want to attract to your feeder. Eventually, one or all will
find your feeder which will cause you to seek a solution on how
to rid your feeder of these unwelcome guests. But why the fuss?
Each of these three species travel in flocks and are very aggressive
towards other birds. It is not uncommon to see 50 house sparrows
or grackles raiding your feeder while chickadees, nuthatches, and
siskins wait in a nearby tree to get a chance to feed. Not only
do they keep desirable birds from feeding, but they usually leave
a mess of discarded seed and bird droppings for you to clean up.
Of more concern is the harm they cause native songbirds such as
bluebirds, tree swallows, and chickadees. House sparrows and starlings
are cavity nesters, as are bluebirds and tree swallows, and compete
ferociously with these species for nesting space. A house sparrow
or starling will often enter the cavity where a native songbird
is nesting and kill the incubating female and chicks. So it would
not only be beneficial to keep house sparrows and starlings from
your feeder, but to also keep them from nesting in your yard.
What can you do to limit the number of visits of these 'pest'
birds at your feeder?
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Do not feed bread! House sparrows, and especially starlings,
love bread. If you run out of seed, it is better to wait until
you buy more than to put out bread crumbs.
Avoid white proso millet or 'canary seed'. White proso millet
is a controversial component of wild bird food. Many seed companies
use it as a filler to make their basic mix. It is the cheapest
bird food available but definitely not the best. Many ground feeding
birds such as our native sparrows, purple finches, and mourning
doves prefer white millet but so do house sparrows. If you have
a house sparrow problem at your feeder, do not feed white proso
millet. Most of the desirable birds that are attracted to white
proso millet will do just as well with black oil sunflower, a
seed that house sparrows do not prefer.
3. If the previous suggestions do not help, there are commercial
live traps available. Contact the Nongame Program for information
on how to obtain these devices. Also, house sparrows and starlings
are exotic species and not protected by law. As a last resort,
they may be shot in rural areas where firearm ordinances permit.
IMPORTANT! Before doing this, make sure you can correctly identify
house sparrows from our native sparrows!
4. Common grackles are native birds that are protected by law.
Unfortunately, they can become quite abundant at feeders during
spring and fall migration. Grackles are very aggressive and will
prevent other birds from using your feeder. If they become a problem,
empty your feeder for 2-3 days. Grackles are opportunistic feeders
and will hopefully move on in search of a new food source.