Bird Watcher's General Store

“A Cape Cod Destination Icon For 40 Years”

Grackles Raise Hackles

Dear Bird Folks,

Grackles, grackles, they raise my hackles. Can anything be done to discourage those yellow-eyed gluttons?

-EDK, Cape Cod


Dear Mr., Mrs., or Ms. EDK,

So the grackles raise your hackles, eh? Cute phrasing, do you read a lot of Dr. Seuss? As usual, the reason why the grackles are a problem is because we have messed things up. A couple hundred years ago we had very few grackles, if any, in this area. But then came the Europeans with their axes and tea bags. The endless new farms that quickly engulfed the Northeast provided perfect habitat for hungry grackles. Over the next few centuries, the grackle population has grown to the lovable millions we have today. And you are not alone, many angry grain farmers also have grackle issues.

But before you break out the tar and feathers, or in this case just the tar, you should know that your grackles are also beneficial birds. Homeowners, with their boring green lawns, should love grackles because they eat tons of harmful bugs and grubs. They also eat lots of insects that attack our plants and gardens such as June bugs, Japanese and rose beetles. And if you are thinking about pulling up your lawn and planting cotton, those piggish grackles will eat boll weevils too.

As you have pointed out, grackles do like to eat and they are omnivorous. They will eat anything they can, including sunflower seed at our feeders. Grackles are most abundant at our feeders during spring and fall migration, but there are plenty around in the summer too. One of the reasons that grackles are so common at feeders is that they have very small territories. A male carding nesting in your yard may keep all the other cardinals away from your yard and feeder. But grackles will only defend a few feet around their nest. They don’t care how many other grackles come to the nearest feeder. You know that house in the neighborhood where all the kids show up to eat at? Well, that is what your feeder is like to the grackles. The grackles think you have the party house. When was the last time you heard that?

There are a few things that you can do to help slow down those “yellow-eyed gluttons.” A thistle feeder will get you lots of cutesy goldfinches and absolutely no grackles. There is also a seed called safflower seed that you could try in one of your feeders. Safflower is one of the grackles’ least favorite foods and most of the time they will leave it alone. Safflower is not a repellent, it’s just not their favorite, so if you use it, don’t mix it in with other seeds. And as an added bonus, squirrels and raccoons also are not big fans of safflower seed.

There are a few bird feeders that will keep grackles off, but those feeders are hard to find. Next time you are in Feeders R Us, or wherever you buy your feeders, look them right in the eye and ask them if they will guarantee that the feeders will keep off the grackles, because some feeders work better than others.

Try to keep in mind as you are sticking your voodoo pins into your little stuffed grackle, that grackles do eat lots of bugs. The same bugs that we try to kill with nasty poisons, grackles will eat for free and do it safely. And if all else fails, you can be sure that the grackles will migrate and be gone by the end of October, which is more than I can say for your little “grackles raise my hackles” poem. That will probably be stuck in my head for the rest of the year. Thanks a lot for that.