SegregationThat word used to show up a lot in the 60s for a lot of negative reasons. Who knew I would ever apply it to birds?
I've lived in the Portland area for nearly 8 years. The rental house was very wooded and apparently starlings do not take up residence in heavily wooded yards even with the incentive of feeders. I moved to my home in November, so I didn't have starlings in the beginning. As they returned (I'll have to learn more about their migration) I noticed I had starlings but they didn't seem particularly obnoxious and fed mostly in the grass and on the ground beneath the feeders.
That all changed with the advent of young starlings. Either they all group together in one area or starlings have a lot of young. I started noticing the young starlings and life changed in the yard. The noise got my attention first. I started watching the babies and saw they were bullying everyone else away from the feeders and (not happy with just doing that) fighting among themselves loudly and fiercely. Yes, they eat up the suet at alarming rates but it wasn't the replenishing of suet as much as the irritation and mess (they seem to be very dirty birds) that started annoying me this week.
I started reading about starlings and their eating habits. By accident I discovered they don't eat whole seeds (i.e. sunflower seed in their hulls). Apparently they don't have the bill to break into the hulls easily so they go for feeders with cracked or small seeds like millet. The one suet cake that has black oiler sunflower seeds in the shell is virtually untouched. They will only go after it if all the other suet cakes are gone.
I purchased two new suet feeders. One with a tail for woodpeckers to more easily perch and balance using their tails on the extension. Another that is upside down (Steve and I discussed this odd option and he even made one for himself--can't wait to see it!). I haven't seen any action on the upside down one yet but I did read it takes the birds a few days to discover it and learn to use it. Non-birdwatchers may ask what the point is. Starlings and larger birds can't cling to the suet feeder in this position so it allows the smaller clinging birds like nuthatches and chickadees to use this feeder without being pushed out.
I moved the remaining suet feeders away from the main bird feeding area around the ornamental cherry tree. First, I move them to a pole close to the house. I soon learned the error of my ways! The squabbling that was annoying out in the yard got in my face and became even more annoying and obnoxious. Not to mention all the bird droppings on the patio area and furniture. I quickly rethought that and took two small hanging poles and moved them to the back of the yard close to the wisteria. I noticed it took the young starlings about 1 minute to discover the move and find the suet cages for the 3rd time. Birds amaze me how fast they find food--even during the more abundant times of the year. Peace returned to the patio if not the back of the yard--but at least it was less obvious and not as in-my-face.
That's when segregation came into play. When I went into the family room and started watching the birdfeeding area more, I noticed that though I moved two of the suet feeders away from the cherry tree, the starlings were still aggressively using the tailed suet feeder and another suet cage (though rarely since it had the hulls to contend with). As I watched TV, I watched the birds and thought about how to get the starlings out of the tree and over to "their" section of the yard. I could take down the tailed suet feeder until the starlings leave. I could move the last suet cage to the wisteria to give the starlings more available suet there to encourage more segregation.
After some thought (and waiting for the birds to quit feeding for the day to lessen disturbing their final feed) I came up with this plan. Move the last suet cage to the starling area of the yard. Leave the tailed suet feeder up but only put unhulled sunflower seed cakes in that feeder. Observe the usage of the upside down feeder and see if anyone picks up on it or remove it until winter when they will want to use it more. Keep the cracked and hulled seeds limited to the tiny feeders with the tops lowered so low that only the very small birds can use them--the starlings can't get under the domes to get to the food. If necessary change the no-waste food out in the platform feeder to black oilers in the shell to discourage the starlings from feeding there. Lastly, keep suet well supplied in the starling section to encourage their segregation from the other birds. We'll see if that all works.
Segregation. It can be an ugly word but maybe in this situation it will be a good word and allow division that profits both starlings and other birds.