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Cola82
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An embarrassment of starlings

A few weeks ago I noticed that starlings were nesting in our dryer vent, but as far as I can tell, they haven't laid any eggs and the nest seems abandoned. I still need it cleared from the vent, but that's a separate issue.

I had to take down my bird feeder. At the start, it was all finches, sparrows, and jays, and that was pretty cool. We got a finch feeder when we spotted some goldfinches checking out our yard with all the other birds, but they never came back, so I took it down so it wouldn't get moldy. The starlings were fine, because they were mostly picking grubs out of the yard, but eventually all of the other birds stopped coming by and the only birds eating our seeds and suet were starlings.

Then, a couple days ago, they started massing in our yard. My guess is that this year's parents were teaching their fledglings to use backyard bird feeders, because they were mobbing it. They scattered millet and black oil sunflower seeds and droppings and chunks of suet all over the patio. After a day or so of listening to them drown out every other sound in the neighborhood, I got the ladder and took the feeder down and hid it under some boards in a barrel. I put a wind-chime up on the hook where it used to be and now they come by and fly around the chime and squawk angrily before flying off.

I saw one finch hunting around for millet on the ground yesterday, but really, it's mostly angry starlings perched on our fence here and there. I've seen them landing on our bird house and sticking their heads in--probably looking for the food--but the hole is too small for them to crawl in.

I'm vaguely concerned they'll go for my tomatoes eventually. I watched one fly up to the plant and then away, but I think he was just exploring. Is that something they'd do? I know they eat fruit from time to time.

Does anyone else have any experience encouraging diverse species of backyard birds without attracting a horde of starlings? :(

ETA: I'm mostly grousing, but I'm genuinely open to suggestions.

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applestar
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

I just turned around and asked my DH why we don't get starlings bothering our feeders any more.

:lol: ...you should've seen the look he gave me as he said, "*I* don't know. WHY are you asking me?"

It's been so long I can't remember... But I *think* it's because I only put sunflower and safflower seeds in the feeder, and put only Niger seeds in the finch feeder. In the winter, I supplement with nuts and dried berries, but starlings are gone south by then.

I don't put out suet after it's warmer -- i.e. Migrating birds come back.
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Dillbert
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

I _think_ I've had some success in attracting certain birds by putting out 'just the stuff they like' - it's a great theory, but the 'overlap' in what one bird likes to what another bird likes is tricky...

we have multiple sorts of sparrows, wrens, finches. woodpeckers, a resident cardinal pair (more when food is particularly scarce...) mourning doves and likely a few others I've forgotten.

the other trick is to accommodate their specific feeding habits - it's rare to see a cardinal at a vertical feeder - but they do love safflower seed on the flat feeder - the doves are also 'ground feeders' - they sit around waiting for the other birds to drop seed from the vertical feeder(s) then move in to clean up the ground.

now and then we get a few hundred million starlings stopping by. they clean out the bird feeders in what seems to be 20-30 seconds. they are a bit of a pest when they drop in!

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applestar
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

OK, well I don't know why then. :D

All I know is that when they do descend on us, they prefer to peck around on the front lawn, and they don't bother with the feeders.
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Dillbert
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

>>well I don't know why then.
time to call in the Bird Whisperer (g)

if your grackle crowd is happy with cleaning out the lawn/grass/yard, don't look a gift-bird in the beak.

we have a local AgWay - family has been in the business for oh, don't know, four or five thousand generations..... anyway they have their own "blend" prepared. it's on the label, I suppose I could pay more attention to the mix, but anyway it seems to make our feathered crowd happy and we don't see a lot of (for example el cheapo millet) being tossed out / rejected.

so, methink's it's good stuff, but I have mentioned to them they need to work on a blend with a "tree rat disdain" factor. depending on (?_) we'll have zillions or - like last year - one squirrel raiding the bird feeders.

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Cola82
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

I sure wish we had cardinals out here in the NW. They were my favorite bird growing up.

I know most people consider them pests, but when I was getting dive bombed by barn swallows while working on my patio garden, I was actually excited. My parents used to get them every year and I loved watching the fledglings learn to fly. But I searched the eaves of my house and those of the neighbors couldn't find their nest anywhere, and they never came back, so I have no idea why they were attacking me that day.

I really just want any birds at all besides a massive flock of starlings. It's the diversity I enjoy. I'll definitely be tossing the suet, though.

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watermelonpunch
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

I live in the city, so I well know starlings. :(

But here's a few tips...

It's legal in the U.S. (believe in all states) to kill or destroy the nests of European Starlings, as they are an invasive species.
Not saying that you should go out & kill them though. But it's perfectly acceptable to remove a nest of a starling. And dryer vents that aren't clear are dangerous after all.
Of course if you do decide to kill starlings, you should a) be sure it's starlings, and b) use a method that's legal in the area (ie don't get out your gun & start shooting within city limits in a residential neighborhood!!! :/)

Starlings mass during the springtime in particular, in certain areas, and then sometimes just move on to more inviting areas. Like the municipal dump! LOL (They are such trash lovers... my sister said in SoCal everyone called them "garbage birds".)
I'm assuming they congregate in certain areas when the trees are putting out seeds in certain places.
Take the bird feeder in during this time, as the nice migratory native birds will have enough to eat probably anyway at this time, and it won't hurt them to do without your feeder, and it also will not invite starlings to get used to visiting your house.
You might be able to put a feeder out in a few weeks & not have the problem anymore.
I've done this many times over the years having bird feeders in urban areas.

Heard that starlings don't care for shelled sunflowers. I can't say I recall any starlings bothering my feeder when I used shelled seeds.

Squirrel proof feeders that close the opening when there's too much weight on the perch, will also keep out starlings, in my experience.
They will also keep out other larger birds that might be desirable, so that's an issue.
That said, that's no protection against an angry mob of starlings with flaming torches hell bent on taking the feeder down for the count. :(

Starlings tend not to like to have to navigate through anything to get to a feeder.
So sometimes if you put some obstacles in the way, the little birds will find the feeder, but the starlings won't bother.

Many of the small nice migratory birds are oblivious to loud sudden noises. They're only scared by sudden movements they see.
HOWEVER, starlings, from my experience, react to abrupt sounds.
I've never figured out a way to use this... but I've always felt sure there was a method to employ to use this against the starlings, to keep them out while not discouraging nice birds.
I used to test this myself by the way... I can't remember having found any info about anyone else testing it.
My list of birds and their reaction are on a computer that's currently not hooked up though. But I remember starlings were the most likely to react to me banging a pot or shouting... while most other birds completely ignored the noise.
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rainbowgardener
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

I think you have gotten a lot of good advice here. You do need to be careful with putting out bird feed:

Don't overdo it, the more food there is and the more of it ends up on the ground, the more likely to attract undesirables

No suet except in hard winter

Feed only specific foods that specific birds you like eat. For me that is thistle seed and shelled black oiler sunflower seed only, no mixes.

Feed in ways that the birds you want are adapted to. That includes, upside down tube feeders -- they have the perch over the feeding holes, so the bird has to hang upside down to eat. Goldfinches are quite comfortable doing this, most other feeder birds cannot. And use the anti-squirrel caged feeders:

https://www.bestnest.com/bestnest/RTProd ... SKU=PP-735

which keep out large birds as well as squirrels.

If the starlings show up, quit putting out any food until they go away. After they have been gone for awhile, you can go back to feeding and your songbirds will come back.
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applestar
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

It's almost like talking about it on the forum MAKES it happen :lol:

Yesterday, I was putting up additional strings to support the fava beans and the cilantro going to seed, and I heard the most awful racket going on in the front lawn. I couldn't see over the fence and didn't feel like letting go -- I had plants pushed back and bunched while threading a string through and tying off....

This morning, I took the time to look from the upstairs window, and there was a starling with two fledglings in tow, walking through the lawn and pecking at the ground -- while the two babies followed making as much noise as they could -- every so often shoving whatever in the mouth of the nearest fledgling while the second one kept up the raucous racket.

Probably, there were mre than one family on the lawn yesterday though maybe these were enough to make the decibels if heard through the glass. :roll:
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Cola82
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

Yeah, since it's been down, they've stopped visiting almost completely. One or two here and there show up to get some of the millet still piled up between the edge of the patio and the lawn, but they'll run out of that, too.

I may just buy a new feeder, since the one we have has two suet racks. :/

Live and learn, eh?

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watermelonpunch
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

It's the time of year I think.

These birds have made me so annoyed this week.


First, I think they are SOMEHOW responsible for the female robin abandoning her nest in my lilac bush & disappearing.

I know the robin must be dead, not just because she abandoned the nest with eggs she'd sat on through storm & foul weather... but because her mate, a very fat robin we call "the big bellied robin" was her mate... and he's VERY particular looking & unmistakable.. and he's still hanging around the front yard.

Do starlings actually kill robins to get at the eggs? I was chasing them away from the moment I saw the nest. And I saw the big bellied robin mate trying to chase them too.

Then a day or so after the robin had disappeared and the eggs were raided & all broken on the ground with unready chicks inside...

I heard the chirping of baby cardinals in our juniper bush (like 5ft away from the lilac bush the robin had nested in)... I know they were cardinals because I saw the pair of cardinals going into that bush.
The next day... find the inner lining of a nest on the ground below the juniper bush with a few chips of eggs (that looked like cardinal eggs).
:( :!:

Mind you, I haven't had any bird feeders out since last year.
I decided suet was out of the question, because it seemed to attract only starlings and mockingbirds.

Mockingbirds might not seem too bad... But they're hogs, and here in the city, they often sound like sick cats & car alarms. LOL :roll:

With all the rain, I'm behind in yard work... And I just keep thinking if I can just get the maple seed helicopters cleaned up, and in the compost covered by a pile of last autumn's leaves, they'll go away.
I can hear them out there squawking right now & it's really annoying.

It can be very very trying dealing with flocks of them hanging around creating mayhem.
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applestar
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

Sometimes, cowbirds mingle with the starling flock and arrive with them.
They are "changeling" birds. They lay one or more eggs in other birds' nests. Their overlarge chick hatches earlier than the original eggs, and this chick proceeds to shove the unhatched eggs and sometimes previously hatched chicks out of the nest. Most of the time, the nest owners are oblivious and raise the changelings.

I've seen an attentive male cardinal with the husky towering brown chick in tow, and a neighbor showed me a hanging basket in which house finches had been nesting. He noticed first one and then a 2nd naked newborn chick dead on the patio floor, and a big brown chick squatting in the nest that was almost too small for it. He said the parent birds were continuing to feed this obviously unrelated chick and wondered what it was.

Eggshells on the ground, in and of itself, is not a cause for concern. The parent birds fly off with the shells to dispose of them.
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Cola82
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

Haha, well, I think all animals like to screw each other if they get the chance, even the cute ones. ;p

I mean, I'm harboring two of the most blithely homicidal creatures on the earth under my own roof. D:

ETA: that said, I don't blame anyone for casting a changeling's egg onto the concrete if they find it in their nest.

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watermelonpunch
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Re: An embarrassment of starlings

Ah yes, I've read about the cowbirds after seeing them visiting my parents when they lived in the state of washington. I remembered that because I found it an interesting example of how abandoning young to be taken care of & raised by others may not be so "unnatural". :shock: :?

I imagine cowbirds might be in Pennsylvania... But I've never ever seen one in my city. And I'm a bird watcher, I'm always watching birds.

We do have catbirds.
Not that it's relevant... but I think I read that robins and catbirds won't raise cowbird chicks. Or maybe they just recognize the eggs somehow as not theirs and abandon them.

The eggshells on the ground looked like cardinal eggshells.
They appeared the day after I heard the tiny noises of chicks coming from the bush.
The eggshells alone would not have disturbed me, since the chicks had hatched.
What disturbed me is that the inner lining of the nest was out with it on the ground, and I no longer have heard the chicks. :/

That said, I haven't seen the female cardinal in a few days at all.
And I saw the male cardinal entering & exiting the bush a couple of times.
Made me wonder if the female cardinal was hole up in the bush still.

All I know is there's just tons of starlings en mass. And so many reasons I'd like them to leave.
Add crapping all over everything. They're worse than the catbirds with that, by far.
I don't understand why certain birds tend to crap all over things where it's obvious & I have to see it... while many birds seem NOT to be doing that.
If the starlings don't move on by the time the blackberries are ripe... :eek:
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