Ban bullies at your bird feeder
Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Invasive European bird species can cause a problem for native birds by throwing their weight around bird feeders, nest boxes and natural cavities in trees, outcompeting the native species in their home territory.
Do you have bullies at your bird feeder? Invasive European bird species can cause a problem for native birds by throwing their weight around bird feeders, nest boxes and natural cavities in trees, outcompeting the native species in their home territory.
The bad guys are two year-round invasive birds, European starlings and house sparrows. Introduced to New York City in the 1800s, these city birds now number in the millions, inhabiting the United States and the southern half of Canada and eating most of the food at bird feeders.
During the nesting season, these bully birds aggressively compete with native birds for cavity nesting sites in trees and in bird houses, displacing bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, tree swallows and others. While changing the hole-size and shape on bird houses can discourage non-native birds from nesting in bird houses, the natural cavities are up for grabs. Frequently the bully birds will displace or attack and kill desirable birds, then build their nest on top their remains.
Follow these tips to discourage invasive European birds:
- Use specialty bird feeders and specific seed. Tube feeders filled with small seed (like Niger thistle and sunflower pieces) with openings for small bills work well for chickadees, finches, pine siskins and redpolls.
- Limit the seed types in feeders with larger openings. For example, fill one feeder with black sunflower seed and another with safflower seed for the cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches.
- Try “squirrel proof” feeders, which have baffles or weighted perches that cause trouble for larger birds. Avoid millet, milo and bread, since they attract the bully birds. Hang a suet feeder under a domed squirrel baffle to discourage starlings.
Fast bird facts
House sparrow a.k.a. English sparrow
- Introduced to NY in the 1800’s
- 5¾ inches; a large sparrow
- Winters and summers throughout the United States; lives and nests in cities and towns; this bird’s urban adaptations have enabled it to proliferate around the world.
- Thick compared to native sparrows
- Cheeps & chirps
- A seed-eater; urban house sparrows survive well on edible litter and garbage; they feed their young with spiders and insects, and will drink water in street and parking lot puddles
- April to Sept, 2–3 broods per season
- Male courtship display: wings droop to the ground
- Nest is build with a lining of feathers from the male and female, and commonly includes trash.
- 4 or 5 pale tan eggs with brown blotches
- 14 day incubation, plus 15 days as hatchlings in the nest before fledging.
- Nest is used through the winter
- House sparrows are aggressive and commonly build their nest in bird boxes intended for native species like bluebirds, chickadees, tree swallows, and house wrens.
- Released in NY central park in 1890; native to Europe and Asia
- 8.5 inches; a little smaller than a robin
- A dark chunky bird distinguished from black birds by its short tail and pointed, tapered bill.
- Breeding plumage is glossy black with blue, purple and green iridescence; winter feathers look “spangled” but are actually fringed with a tan margin. This margin usually wears off by the nesting season.
- Bill is yellow during the breeding season & brown in winter
- Gregarious (they flock) with lively activity when a flock descends in a yard or park.
- A starling will mimic other bird species including crickets and frogs, but their most common winter call is a streaming of squeaks and whistles with a distinct pheee-oooo.
- Main foods are seeds and grain, but include earthworms and insects found in grassy areas
- They compete with wild birds and small animals for food.
- will evict or kill native birds and take over their cavity nesting sites
- In Europe, millions of starlings descend on Rome each autumn. Rome’s centuries-old statues, fountains and buildings are fouled from their noxious guano