Birding: Deterring the European Starling |

Birding: Deterring the European Starling

Larry Collins
Free Press Home & Garden Columnist

In my last column, we talked about nuisance birds — the Pinyon Jay in particular.

This week, we will talk about another nuisance bird — the European Starling.

I guess it is not polite of me to refer to either species as nuisance birds; they have to eat, too. It is just that I receive more complaints about these two species monopolizing feeders than all other species combined.

The success of the European Starling in North America is nothing less than phenomenal. Although estimates vary, it is commonly believed that a total of about 100 individual birds were released into Central Park in New York City in 1890 and 1891. The entire North American population, now numbering more than 200 million and distributed across most of the continent, is derived from these few birds. This is arguably the most successful avian introduction to this continent.

Although the European Starling is most frequently associated with areas where humans reside, their presence has had a significant impact on our native habitat. In particular, it offers intense competition for nesting cavities and has had a detrimental effect on many native-cavity nesting species, such as woodpeckers and chickadees.

Starlings eat about anything, including insects, seeds, fruit, and nuts. They will also raid bird houses for food.

As with the jays, we find them at our feeders when their normal food source becomes depleted or unobtainable. Normally, they do not stay at feeders for extended periods of time. During the winter, however, when we have periods of very cold weather or snow covered ground, they will stay longer.

I think we have all been amazed watching large flocks of starlings perform their intricate aerobatic maneuvers. We all wonder how they do that with no collisions. Starlings are also great songsters and can mimic the songs of other birds. So, I guess these two attributes could be the good side of them.

As I mentioned in the last column, the following are ways you may be able to discourage larger birds, including starlings, from your feeders.

If you would like to deter them from your feeders, changing the type of seed won’t work. The best solution I have found is to limit the size of the landing or perching area on your feeders.

Obviously, tray feeders should be removed until the starlings are gone. If you have a tube feeder with a tray on the bottom, try removing the tray. A European Starling is a fairly large bird and usually can’t fit on a perch and eat the seed.

You can also put a cage around a tube feeder, which eliminates the larger birds from accessing the seed but allows the smaller birds to fly through the holes in the cage to the tube feeder.

If you have a hopper feeder, you might try wrapping a bungee cord (or several if necessary) around the feeder, reducing the size of the landing area. A bungee cord is easy to detach for filling the feeder. A last ditch effort would be to remove or not fill the feeders for several days in hopes the starlings will find another feeding source.

As I have mentioned, these two species (the jays and starlings) are usually considered to be nuisance birds, but as you can see there is a good side to them also. During these cold months, try to have patience with their aggressiveness and enjoy them.

Thank you to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for some of the content of this article.

Local bird expert and GJ Free Press columnist Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard bird-feeding experience possible. Email your bird-feeding and birding questions to and he’ll answer them in his bi-weekly Q&A column.

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