By Grant Toellner
One of the first questions of any avid bird watcher is, “How do I attract and feed the “good” birds (Cardinals, Finches, and Clingers) while keeping away the “bad” (Grackles, Blackbirds) and especially the “ugly” (Starlings, Sparrows)?” While it’s almost impossible to totally eliminate a sighting of the “bad” or “ugly” in your back yard, there are a few good defense tactics out there to keep the unwanted visitors away. The tactics involve choosing the right type of seed to feed, using the right type of feeders, as well as other preventative methods.
Choose the right bird food
The first, simple way to attract good birds and discourage the bad and the ugly is by choosing the right type
Upside down suet feeder
of seed to feed. The two best types of seed known to discourage the bad and ugly birds are black oil sunflower and, my personal favorite, safflower. While neither is a 100 percent solution, both are loved by most songbirds and are at the bottom of the dining list for the bad and ugly. Another feeding solution is to stop feeding seeds that contain miller, milo, or cracked corn. The bad and the ugly birds love to pick through and eat it from the seed mixes and most songbirds won’t even eat it at all. If you already are a mixed seed feeder, no problem, the simple solution is to use bird feeders designed for songbirds and to fight the bad and the ugly. Also, try eliminating all ground feeding as it is a favorite hangout spot for the bad and ugly to eat.
Choose the right bird feeder
Clingers Only Feeder
Another effective way to attract good birds while discouraging the bad and the ugly is by using the right type of bird feeder. There are many feeders out there designed specifically for songbirds, but these are a few of my favorites. I, myself, am a big Chickadee and Titmouse fan. One of my favorite feeders, which they seem to love, is the Clinger Only Feeder. I like it because it is small, easy to fill, and has a small clinging area which not only make it Blackbird proof, but is also rarely can be used by Sparrows. If you are a Woodpecker or Nuthatch lover, try using an upside-down suet feeder. Suet is one of the main foods that attract your larger bad and ugly birds, but neither like to hand upside down, so they simply won’t eat from it. A good one to use is the Songbird Essentials upside-down suet feeder. It is made from recycled plastic so it is good for the environment. It also is very durable and come with a lifetime warranty. If your backyard is already set with feeders, try shortening the perches on your tube feeders. Smaller birds will still be able to cling, but larger birds will not.
When all else fails
The last effective way to get rid of the ugly birds is to use prevention methods involving the elimination of all together. Some might consider this inhumane,
but it is necessary to help secure the safety of our native birds’ futures. For example, the growth of the non-native English Starling has had a huge negative impact on birds like the migratory Purple Martin. When Purple Martins are away from their nests, Starling will go in and invade the nest and destroy any eggs or young they find inside. Starlings have also been known to trap and kill an adult Martin if it is in its cavity. Another example of the destruction non-native bird species have caused is the Bluebird decline caused by House Sparrows. House Sparrows not only destroy the Bluebird’s eggs, they also kill the adult and young birds by attacking them inside their next boxes with their hooked beaks. One way to eliminate them is what I like to call “the old-fashioned way”, and that is just using a pellet gun. Before going with this approach, make sure you are very careful of your back stop, as well as having the gun set to the appropriate power. You also should have a pair of binoculars on hand, to make sure you properly ID the bird before you shoot. The “ugly” birds are considered pests and are legal to kill, the “bad” birds I mentioned before are still native so they are illegal to kill. If the old-fashion way isn’t for you, try using a sparrow trap around one of your bird houses, or in close proximity to some of your feeders. Inside of the trap you will need to place bread or scrap to attract Starling and Sparrows. You will need to check the trap regularly, as songbirds occasionally get attracted and trapped inside too. A good, effective trap to have is the Sparrow trap from Songbird Essentials. I would consider this a must have for anyone who has a Purple Martin house and wants to effectively proven the Purple Martin colony from being negatively affected by non-native birds. Although nothing is a total fix for preventing the bad and ugly birds from hanging around your backyard, the tips above have seen and used effectively as tools for keeping the bad and ugly away from backyards.