Bullying in Birds

Blue jays band together to raid feeding stations during the winter.

Blue jays band together to raid feeding stations during the winter.

If you're an avid birdwatcher who relishes feeding wild birds in your backyard, you may be frustrated by larger species who chase away smaller songbirds. Don't stop feeding the birds, however -- especially in winter. Birds accustomed to a steady food supply may struggle to survive if your provision disappears.

Types of Bully Birds

Most birds guilty of being bullies are larger than the average avian. They include blackbirds, crows, starlings, pigeons and house sparrows. These birds may descend on your backyard feeders, screeching and chasing away the smaller finches and chickadees. They will gobble up the food until nothing is left. Certain bully birds, such as blackbirds, grackles and house sparrows, live in large flocks. They will greedily claim a feeding station and squeeze out any other bird hoping for a bite. Blue jays can be extremely aggressive and territorial, even killing smaller birds who get in their way.

What Attracts Bully Birds

Birds are attracted to the type of food you provide. Larger birds favor wild birdseed mixes as well as corn, bread, sunflower seeds and millet. Blue jays prefer whole peanuts while blackbirds relish cracked corn and baked goods. Eliminate these entrees and serve thistle or safflower seeds instead. Bully birds dislike this selection, which will discourage them from visiting your feeder.

Tactics for Deterring Bully Birds

You can discourage bully birds from invading your backyard by placing chicken wire around your feeders. The wire allows smaller birds to access the food, while keeping the larger bullies away. If they cannot reach the food, many bully birds will salvage the seeds that fall to the ground. To solve this problem, place a garbage can under the feeder. Select bird feeders without perches. Larger, heavier birds need to perch while eating. Finches and other small birds can cling to the wire around the feeder and eat to their heart’s content. Starlings are scared of mirrors and will not enter a bird feeder with a mirror inside. Bully birds are also intimidated by loud noises such as whistle blowers or blaring music.

Feeders That Deter Bully Birds

Tube feeders are ideal for keeping bullies away as they are designed for smaller bird species such as goldfinches, chickadees and sparrows. Avoid using platform feeders, which look like a tray, as they are easy for large birds to access. Blue jays, grackles and blackbirds dislike hanging feeders. Bird Watchers Digest recommends using hopper feeders filled with black-oil sunflower seeds to deter pigeons, blackbirds and house sparrows from visiting your yard.

Accommodating Bully Birds

If you do not wish to exclude bully birds completely from your feeding program, consider setting up a separate station just for them. Select the opposite side of the house or a different section of your yard for your larger feeding stations.

 

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