We know all birds have to eat, but if you’ve been putting out bird food hoping to attract songbirds like tits, finches, or robins, it can be frustrating to see a group of starlings or pigeons swoop in and eat the lot before the smaller birds have a chance.
Small birds are in the most need of the food we put out in our gardens, and feeding birds can become an expensive hobby if bird feeders are emptied by a flock of larger birds in a matter of minutes.
Here are some tips to help you keep the peace at your bird feeders:
Bird feeders are available in many different styles. Some of them are specifically designed to help prevent larger birds getting at the food inside.
Caged feeders have a wire or rubber-coated mesh protection around them so only smaller birds can access the feeding ports. Although caged bird feeders are often sold as a way of preventing squirrels stealing bird food, they are also very effective at stopping larger birds getting at the food.
Another type of squirrel proof bird feeder has a weight-activated perch or treadle which means that the feeding ports will close if a heavy bird, such as a collared dove sits on it. Smaller birds which weigh just a few grams are too light to trigger the mechanism so they can happily feed in peace.
The height of a domed bird feeder can be adjusted to regulate the size of the birds that can access the food. They are often marketed as robin feeders but can be used to protect any small birds. You could also use a squirrel baffle placed over a feeder or DIY by drilling a hole through the middle of a plastic bowl and fastening it upside down over a regular bird feeder.
Larger birds need a perch to hold on to as they eat, whereas smaller birds such as goldfinches or blue tits will cling on to the sides of a feeder. You can also buy bird feeders which have perches above the food ports so birds have to lean down to feed. Acrobatic small birds will have no trouble accessing food this way, but larger birds will find it much more difficult if not impossible.
Some people refer to larger birds as bullies which we think is somewhat unfair. They’re not being intentionally cruel but can be naturally more aggressive or territorial over their feeding areas and will protect food exclusively for their own use by chasing away or attacking other birds.
Some larger species of birds, such as jays or magpies, may hoard surplus food for consumption later, and pigeons and doves will store food in their crops. This means they can be perceived as taking more than their fair share. But again, this is natural behaviour that has evolved over time to ensure the species’ survival.
And it’s not just large birds that can cause chaos at bird feeders. The term bully birds can also apply to flocks of smaller birds. Social birds, such as sparrows, can arrive at bird feeders in large numbers scaring away individual birds or crowding out feeders making it difficult for other species to get a look in.
Many large birds prefer to feed from the ground so if they have the opportunity to get easy access to a ground feeder they will. Either avoid ground feeding altogether or use a ground feeder sanctuary to prevent larger birds, as well as cats and other predators accessing the food.
Larger birds like all-purpose bird food such as wheat, millet, cracked corn, and kitchen scraps. Specialised food that is formulated for different species of birds such as finch mixes, niger seed, and sunflower hearts will attract goldfinches, greenfinches, and siskins, while keeping the bigger birds away.
You could try placing a mirror near your bird feeders. Larger birds can get spooked by their own reflections, but mirrors don’t seem to bother smaller birds. Similarly, wind chimes, garden windmills, or whirlygigs can deter larger birds from making an appearance but don’t put off small birds.
Keep the ground beneath your feeders clean. Sweep up discarded husks and dropped shells which can attract larger birds to your feeding area. Clean feeders also help prevent bacteria and the spread of disease and as many of these hungry birds gather in large flocks they can be more susceptible to the spread of diseases
If you are happy to keep feeding larger birds, then consider providing them with their own feeders. A ground feeder with cheaper bird food is ideal as it provides easy access which may encourage them to leave the other feeders alone.