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Larry Lyons: The dastardly grackles are back

Published 9:03pm Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Many people that feed birds only do so in the winter months when natural food sources are scarce.

I’ve long fed them year-round as I find their presence just as enjoyable in the summer as winter. Summer feeding also attracts birds that I would never see during the winter such as rose-breasted grosbeaks and the occasional towhee and indigo bunting.

I’ve always put out an entire buffet. A feeder stoked with mixed bird seed is the most popular with the various sparrows and finches, titmice, chickadees and most of the smaller visitors as well as mourning doves.

A sunflower seed feeder serves the rosies and cardinals as well as just about all of the birds looking for a little change of pace. A suet block brings in all the woodpeckers and, again, provides a welcome change now and then for most of the other birds. A thistle seed feeder handles the goldfinches and a hummingbird feeder sees a constant onslaught of hummers.

But alas, I’ve now been forced to cut back. The troubles began last year when a batch of grackles discovered the bounty. Due to their outlandish size a herd of grackles can empty a feeder in short order.  And they’re not picky about what’s on the menu. They lay into the mixed seed, sunflower seeds and suet with equal gusto. Last year when they’re appetites got out of hand I shut down the feeders for a week or so. The grackles moved on and I was back in business.

This year the grackle gang is back and they brought along all their aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, buddies and everyone else they could find. The suet was high on their preference list and they could knock off a block of suet in a couple hours. I’ve even seen where one was on the suet just whacking off chunks which fell to an awaiting mob of buddies on the ground underneath.  The whole block was gone in minutes. At a buck a block it didn’t take me long to cut off the suet supply. That, of course, meant all the downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers had to move on.

The loss of suet was of little concern to the grackles. They just turned their assault to the mixed seed and sunflower seed. Feeders which normally went five or six days between fillings were being emptied in a day and a half or less. I really enjoy the rose-breasted grosbeaks which all but live on the sunflower seed feeder and I hated to cut them off but this was getting ridiculous. I shut down both those feeders.

That didn’t go without protest. One day I heard a woodpecker banging on something that made a weird noise. The red-bellied woodpeckers like their share of seeds along with suet. I looked out and there was a red-belly whacking away on the barren plastic feeder, presumably thinking if he could only get the dumb thing open there’d be more inside. That went on for days.  Of course, it wasn’t long before we were birdless, a rare and unsettling event around here.

I waited a long week and then opened everything back up, assuming like last year the grackles had moved on and things would return to normal. That wasn’t to be. The grackles must have kept look-outs posted for within a day they were back en masse and promptly cleaned everything up.

Now I’ve resigned myself to a compromise. Most everything will eat sunflower seeds. For many it may not be their favorite but in a pinch they’ll eat it.

They’re also the cheapest. That’s not to say they’re cheap, but less than the suet and fancy bird seed mix. So now I’m biting the bullet and keeping the sunflower seeds going. My beloved rosies are back, patiently awaiting the rare occasion when the feeder isn’t engulfed by grackles. The cardinals have returned and even the red-bellied woodpeckers have learned to hang precariously on the sunflower feeder. Mourning doves, four half grown squirrels and a pint sized baby rabbit are constant fixtures on the ground underneath. It seems to be a workable arrangement.

Carpe diem.

Larry Lyons writes a weekly outdoor column for Leader Publications.

He can be reached at

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