Stop the Bullying: Ways to Make Your Backyard Unattractive to European Starlings
You might have seen your first European Starling sitting on a telephone wire in your backyard or perched on a branch in the city park. If you looked closely, you were probably impressed with its purple and green iridescence, cream-tipped feathers, and the white polka dots that make it look like it came straight out of a painting.
And it’s not even just the exquisite look what makes this bird so special. Adaptable, intelligent, and highly resourceful, the European Starling managed to get from a population of just 100 birds (when it was first introduced in America in the 1890s) to being one of the most successful birds on the continent, currently counting over 200 million in North America alone.
And yet, few people are actually fond of European Starlings. Their reputation is that of a garden pest, a crop destroyer, and a bird feeder bully; instead of “beautiful” or “clever,” most often they are described as loud, obnoxious, and utterly destructive. Specifically, the reasons why most people consider these birds pests include:
- They ravage numerous agricultural crops such as grapes, peaches, cherries, and apples
- In new grain fields, they cause considerable damage by pulling out young plants and eating the seeds
- They produce phytotoxic droppings that can kill mature trees (in large amounts of over 1 ft in depth)
- They consume and contaminate the food and water sources in livestock and poultry farms
- They enter buildings to build nests in nooks and crannies, creating sanitation problems and fire hazards
- Due to their habit of foraging near airports, large flocks can collide with planes and cause air disasters
- They compete fiercely for food and nesting sites, harassing and displacing native cavity-nesting bird species such as purple martins, various woodpeckers, and bluebirds
- They carry diseases transmissible to animals and humans, including gastroenteritis, salmonella, E. coli, blastomycosis, and others
5 Ways to Starling-Proof Your Yard
European Starlings are widespread across Canada, but no laws protect these species, so they can be evicted from buildings and properties at any time. Here’s how to convince them to leave your property this season:
Lock them out. One of the most effective ways to avoid losing all your bird food to aggressive bully birds is to physically keep them out of the feeder. Fortunately, that’s not very difficult as bully birds are typically larger than most desirable songbirds, and you can easily modify your feeder to accommodate only the smaller species. Some feeders are enclosed by a wide-mesh hardware cloth with small openings to exclude larger species, while others have the openings that surround the feeders below large enough to allow only desirable birds to easily navigate. Ask your local bird specialty store for bird feeder designs that deters unwanted birds.
Be smarter than them. Knowing your enemy is half the battle won, so find out what Starlings dislike and use the information against them. For instance, Starlings have a hard time clinging upside down and are reluctant to go under any kind of cover to reach the meal, so consider acquiring an upside-down feeder where the suet can only be reached from underneath. They also dislike the swinging and twirling of the feeder, so buying a smaller one that start moving whenever larger birds land on them might discourage them even further. Shortening the perches of the feeder will also make the feeder inaccessible as Starlings have difficulty landing on small surfaces.
Be selective. Starlings are soft-billed birds, meaning their bills are more suitable for soft-bodied foods such as insects and fruit rather than hard seeds. At the feeder, bully birds generally prefer suet, corn, millet, and bread crumbs, and they have difficulty cracking sunflower seeds, Nyjer, and whole peanuts. By offering only those seeds, your buffet will seem far less attractive to Starlings, and you’ll still get to feed some of your favorite songbirds, including finches, chickadees, cardinals, and nuthatches.
Scare them away. Starlings are tenacious and they don’t scare easily, but a combination of audible and visual scare tactics might convince them to leave a roost. Start with Starling distress cries and predator calls recorded on cassette tape and played through loud speakers; use alarm calls, shell crackers, shotguns, or simply make excessive noise using items on hand. Use balloons with eye spots, powerful lights, kites with hawk or owl silhouettes, streamers, and mylar reflectors to harass the birds. Consider spraying the most insistent with water.
Keep it clean. Restricting access to the feeder is not enough to keep Starlings out. Some bully birds in your garden, including pigeons and blackbirds, can easily live off the seeds that other birds drop on the ground. To solve this problem, place a deep garbage can underneath to catch all spilled seeds and prevent the area from becoming a secondary feeding station. Starlings will be reluctant to fly into the container to pick up the discarded seeds. Make a habit of regularly inspecting the area below hanging and post feeders and clean up any seeds spilled on the ground.
Although there are several options you can consider to discourage Starlings yourself from crowding out small birds at the feeder, you should know that they are not the easiest pest to control. If your methods cannot control and manage backyard populations, then professional attention may be required. Commercial bird management services use a combination of avian dissuaders, flock frightening agents, and other humane methods, so consider contacting your local pest company to keep these unwelcomed guests out of your backyard this season.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.