Pest Birds & Unwanted Birds

Your bird feeder is offering free food. Of course you are going to attract unwanted visitors!

Quite a few of us like to feed birds — but only the “Good” birds. A Starling or House Sparrow or Pigeon are “Bad” birds in many people’s eyes.

Some folks would like the other “pest birds” to go away. These might include Grackles, Crows, Blue Jays or even Sharp-shinned Hawks. If you live near a park or golf course then Canada Geese and American Coots may be at the top of your “unwanted” bird list. I am asked most often about getting rid of the Woodpeckers. Here in southern Florida the Red-bellied Woodpeckers love to drill into decorative molding on the front of a house. Others are being driven crazy by drumming on a metal chimney at 6am!

Once you become the neighborhood “Bird Expert”, you will hear just as many questions about how to get rid of birds as how to attract them. Birdfeeders also attract pests like raccoons, mice and rats, or deer. One person even wrote to a national birding magazine about a Moose that came to their birdfeeder!

There are a few tricks to getting rid of the critters you do not want:

  • Keep birdseed off the ground
  • Stop feeding certain foods for a while
  • Change the type of bird feeder you use
  • Move your feeders to a new location
  • Stop feeding completely for a week

Keep the area under the feeders clean and free of seeds. Birds spill a lot of seed. This can attract mice and rats.

Larger birds can be deterred by enclosing your feeders in a cage. The smaller birds can get through the narrow openings and eat. The larger birds are kept out. This should also prevent deer from eating your birdseed.

If you are bothered by raccoons, you may find that moving your feeder away from tree branches or buildings will help.

Question: PLEASE HELP !! Pesky blackbirds are eating all my bird seed!

Question: “Last year, I purchased several bird feeders for my mother to enjoy. For most of the year, she enjoyed watching cardinals and other beautiful wild birds. Then the black birds discovered her feeders. Now, we can’t keep the bird feeders full because of the black birds and we haven’t seen any of the other wild birds we enjoyed last year. How can we get rid of the black birds? Is there a specific food that they won’t eat but the other wild birds enjoy? …Charlie H.”

Question: “I’ve been back yard feeding for 3 years. I have wild mixed, sunflower, thistle, and suet. My problem is BLACKBIRDS! They come in and eat everything [except the thistle], until it is gone. These are not the red-winged blackbird. They are plain without any markings. The great variety of birds I have hardly get a chance. And it is costly to. I am constantly filling my feeders. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do? … Larry N.”

Answer: Blackbirds, Grackles and Starlings can empty a bird feeder in no time flat! There are a few things you can try to make them eat less or go away.

1. Place a variety of feeders in your yard, including “thistle” feeders and suet feeders.

2. Put a cage or screen around your seed feeders so only smaller birds can get to the food. Build your own using chicken wire or buy one of the commercial bird feeders made especially to solve this problem.

3. Use a Hopper type feeder with a weighted perch that closes when a heavy bird (or squirrel) lands on it.

4. Keep bird seed off the ground and stop filling your platform feeder for a week. Blackbirds and Starlings may get discouraged and move on.

5. Shorten the perches on your tube feeders. The smaller birds (Goldfinches, Chickadees and Titmice) will be able to eat but larger birds will not be able to land.

6. If Starlings are eating all your suet, try a feeder that required the birds to hang upside downWoodpeckers can eat like that, but Starlings hate it.

7. Never buy seed mixes containing milo. Blackbirds are the only birds that seem to like milo! Blackbirds also like millet and cracked corn, but few of the colorful songbirds eat these seeds. You might try offering safflower seeds instead of sunflower seeds in your tube feeders.

8. Learn to appreciate Blackbirds. All black birds are not the same! What exactly is coming to your feeder? Can you identify a female Red-winged Blackbird? Here are some of the “Blackbirds” found in the U.S. and Canada:

European Starling
Common Grackle (both the Interior & Coastal form)
Boat-tailed Grackle
Great-tailed grackle
Red-winged Blackbird
Tri-colored Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Shiny Cowbird
Bronzed Cowbird

It was just a conincidence that these two emails arrived during the same week — I’m pretty sure they don’t even live in the same state.

Question #1: My husband and I live in a suburban townhome community. Our street ends at a wooded area. My husband has put up a bird feeder that contains generic, multipurpose birdfood. We have been fairly successful in luring many different species of birds to our feeder. Now the problem-my neighbor has complained about the feeder. She feels as though the feeder is causing birds to nest in her roof and has complained about the droppings that have hit her house. My question to you is would having a feeder in our yard encourage the birds to nest in her roof? I am trying to find some compromise between my husbands love of birds and my neighbors dislike of them. Please help. — Kim.

Question #2: My neighbour put in a bird feeder in their backyard and the attracted birds are becoming a nuisance on my property, like bird droppings and eating my plants and noise. I don’t think I have the right to tell them to move it, so what can I put in my backyard to scare them off or keep them off my property but not to harm them in any way. Your reply would be appreciated. thanks. — Sue

Answer: Larger birds like Doves, Grackles and Starlings can make a real mess. They typically come to feeders to eat corn and other seed spilled on the ground. Kim, try stopping all feeding for a week and perhaps the flock of messy birds will find another location. Also try feeding birds using a tube feeder — but cut off part of the perch so larger birds cannot land. Also try feeding Niger (thistle) seed. Smaller birds like Finches are attracted to Niger seed. You might try hanging Hummingbird Feeders. Buy one for your neighbor as well. Hummers are wondeful birds to watch and they will not mess up the neighbor’s yard.

Sue, perhaps you could suggest to your neighbor that the larger birds are making a mess. Buy your neighbor some Niger seed or shelled Sunflower seeds. This should attract smaller birds. Ask you neighbor not to spread seeds on the ground where Doves, Grackles and Starlings will congregate. (Be glad you don’t live in my neighborhood in Naples, Florida — a thermal inversion in the pond killed a lot of small fish. Our neighbor had over 40 Herons, Egrets, Terns, Gulls, Cormorants and Anhingas sitting and pooping on his roof for three days!)

Question: Please help me. I am at my wits end with pigeons, what started out as a pleasure for me now has turned into a nightmare. I love and enjoy birds, I put up a feeder for sparrows and those lovely cardinals, all I have now is those nasty and fighting pigeons. Is there something I can do to deter them from coming around. Help! — Dani

Answer: Pigeons (and Doves) have become pests in some areas of North America. In large cities, they can make a real mess on sidewalks, window ledges and statues. These birds feed on the ground or on platform feeders. They will not land on the small perches of tube feeders, but they may sit in the tray beneath a tube feeder! They tend to eat a LOT!!!

The key to making them stop pigging out at your feeder is to keep seed off the ground. Try to keep the area under your bird feeders clear of seeds by sweeping them up each day. You might also try placing a screen under the feeders so seeds fall through but the birds cannot get to them. Placing large rocks under your feeders would be another way to prevent the pigeons from getting at the seeds. In some yards, this may be a practical solution.

It might help if you stopped feeding the birds for a week. The pigeons may find somewhere else to go. You could still continue to put out food such as thistle seed and suet — something the pigeons do not like. Switch to feeders that do not spill so much of the seed onto the ground. Platform feeders and some hopper type feeders may be especially messy. Switch to tube feeders so the birds have to work to get one seed at a time. If all else fails, learn to appreciate Pigeons and Doves. Join Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project PigeonWatch. All “pigeons” are not the same! What exactly is coming to your feeder? Rock Pigeon (the typical city “pigeon”), Mourning Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Spotted Dove, White-winged Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Inca Dove, Band-tailed Pigeon?

Question: I am wondering if anyone can tell me what to do about the Yellow-bellied sapsuckers that are pecking the heck out of a small birch tree and an mountain ash about the same age. I don’t know if it will kill the trees or if there is something you can put on the trees to prevent them from taking the bark off. I live in North western Montana, and I could sure use some useful information if you have any on this problem. — Lindsay

Answer: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers will drill a series of small holes around a tree trunk. When they return a few hours later, the holes have filled with sap. They suck the sap from these holes – hence their name. These holes usually will not damage the tree.

Larger woodpeckers that tear bark off a tree are searching for insects. They may be doing you a favor by eating insects that might eventually kill your tree. Most trees should be able to co-exist with woodpeckers. For young trees, try tying silver ribbons or balloons made of Mylar from the limbs to scare away the birds.

Question: Woodpeckers are pecking on my house and on the chimney. How do I get rid of them?

Answer: Woodpeckers are making that racket outside your bedroom window to attract a mate. Drumming also tells other male woodpeckers “This is my territory – keep out.”

Woodpeckers like to hammer on wooden shingles, metal gutters, television antennas and light posts because these materials produce loud, hollow sounds. Drumming is most common during the early morning and late afternoon. Male woodpeckers start drumming in April and usually stop by early July.

Woodpeckers can be very persistent and are not easily driven from selected territories or pecking sites. Any control effort should be started as soon as the problem begins, before their territories are well established. Feeding them will probably not have any effect on the drumming.

Owl images generally are unsuccessful for frightening woodpeckers. Hawk silhouette mobiles are more successful frightening devices.

Woodpeckers are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act as migratory, nongame birds. Some species are also protected by state laws. You cannot shoot them!

Occasionally the woodpecker will make a hole in your eaves. To prevent further damage to wood beneath the eaves, plastic bird netting can be installed from the gutter angled back to the siding below the damaged area. You might want to provide an alternate nest box nearby for the woodpecker.

Noisy Woodpeckers can be especially bothersome to non-birders. You can answer a non-birder’s question and also explain why the woodpeckers are behaving that way. Who knows. You might just help turn your neighbor into a real birder!

Question: I am hoping you can help me, as I don’t know what to do. My problem stems from a family of Blue Jays that are nesting close to my home. They seem to have developed a dislike for me as they dive and hit my head when I go outside. I have quite a nice back-yard and I don’t want to spend the summer indoors. Is there something I could use to safely change their residence? They seem to not care about anyone else in the house, but they will yell at me and make threatening gestures with me even just inside my door. It is too Hitchcockian for me, and any help or direction you could give would be appreciated. —  Kelly

Answer: The parents are defending their nest and young. You scare them more than they scare you! Blue Jays will incubate eggs for about 17 days and then it will be another 20 days before the young leave the nest. I would be very surprised if the birds attacked you out in your yard away from the nest. I suspect that they will ignore you in a few days, once they see you mean them no harm. (Of course, if you try to drive them away, they will pluck out your eyes).

Northern Mockingbirds are another noisy bird. They sing most of the year, from February to August, and again from late September to early November, when winter territories are being established. They often sing at night. There is not much you can do to get rid of them.

The same answer applies to folks in the south kept awake by Chuck-will’s-widow. They will sing (very loudly) at night from April to June. Try shutting your windows. For a real challenge, go out with a flashlight and try to see one! I discovered a neat trick, go out with a flash attachment to your camera. When you hear a bird, point the flash in that direction and shoot a burst of light at the sound. You can often see the eye-shine this way and then focus on the bird through your high-quality binocular.