DIY Upside Down Suet Feeder

Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Spring is the time of year when the 'Blackbird Blues' typically begin.  In other words it’s the time when the migratory blackbirds return to our yards and feast on the foods we leave out to attract backyard birds.  True blackbirds belong to the Family Icteridae including Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula), Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) and Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater).  Typically it’s the Common Grackles that most people dislike; however there are blackbirds that many people enjoy and want in their yards including Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula), Orchard Orioles (Icterus spurius) and if you’re lucky Rusty Blackbirds (Euphagus carolinus)- an IUCN threatened species www.iucnredlist.org

Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula)
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Lately I have been struggling with European Starlings eating all the suet I offer to the woodpeckers in my backyard (grackles will eat suet as well).  So I came up with a way to convert my suet feeder into an upside down suet feeder to discourage starlings and grackles.  Keep in mind this is not a 100% effect method of keeping them out of your suet, but so far it has worked well for me.  It’s based on the physiology of the birds that eat suet.  Suet eating birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees are comfortable feeding upside down.  In fact nuthatches are specifically known for hanging upside down.  Starlings and grackles have a more difficult time feeding upside down, thus upside down suet feeders discourage them. I have two WBU EcoTough® Double Tail Prop Suet Feeders which is what I used for this project. 


Here’s what you will need:




First attach the suet hanger to your feeder so that the weight of the feeder is balanced and the feeder hangs level horizontally.  For a suet cage feeder, get some pliers and re-position the hanging chain so that the feeder hangs horizontally instead of vertically.


Next unwrap the plastic wrapping off of your suet cake(s) leaving the plastic molded tray on the suet.  I’m still using up some of my WBU Christmas Suet.  The woodpeckers go crazy for it!  




Place the suet in its plastic tray inside the feeder so that the open suet faces down when the feeder is hanging.  The plastic tray will protect the suet from being eating on all sides except the bottom. 


Then use your zip ties to secure the feeders moveable parts.  Keep in mind most suet feeders are not designed to be hung horizontally so you may need to get a bit creative.


That’s it!  Now you can hang your feeder and enjoy the woodpeckers while discouraging “blackbirds”.  

  

Here is a little Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) enjoying the suet.


For ID tips and more information on Common Grackles and European Starlings please visit the Lab of Orithology’s All About Birds website: www.allaboutbirds.org

-          Common Grackle: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/common_grackle/id

-          European Starling: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/european_starling/id

Happy Feeding!

Kristen Martyn

8 comments:

  1. Do note that some birds can learn to eat from an upside down suet feeder we have one but the starlings figured out how to get at it by hovering just below it seems quite energy intensive so I don't know if they actually gain anything out of it though. That said our resident Grey Catbirds also use the same technique and Blue Jays have a similar technique though they have managed to find a way to get themselves upside down with difficulty, so I can't discriminate too much as that would hinder both of those personable visitors.

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    1. Absolutely! They can feed upside down if determined enough. This happens most during bad weather and when babies are in the nest. We like to say that this is a good first ling of defence. If you have an existing feeder it's certainly worth trying before buying a grackle proof feeder. :) Thanks for reading!

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  2. Hello, I bought an upside down suet feeder. It does work for the starlings but nothing else is eating from it and I have tried several things that hasn’t worked. Any ideas? About to give up and just stop feeding suet all together. It has been up for about 6 months.
    Hope you can help. Just interested it feeding the woodpecker with it. Thanks

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    1. Hi Crazy Bird Lady,

      Have you fed suet prior to putting the feeder out? It's also important to consider if the suet you've put in the feeder is high quality. Poor quality suets tend to be filled with ingredients that the birds do not care for and can result in little to no activity. I would try putting a high quality suet like WBU SuperSuet in your feeder and see if that helps. Also, has the same suet cake in feeder the whole time? 6 Months is a long time for your suet to be exposed to the weather and it can spoil in this time. Check to make sure it has no mold on it. It also helps if new feeders are close to other feeders that the birds are coming to. Upside down feeders typically take longer for the birds to understand how to feed from it. I wouldn't give up you just might have to be a little stubborn. Remember birds can't smell well so food is found visually. If they can't see the food, such as in an upside down suet feeder this can make the process of finding the food longer. Here is a video we just posted of high quality vs low quality suet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCLYilwzd0s

      Kristen

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  3. Hello, thanks for posting my question but wouldn’t you know it just when I posted this a woodpecker started eating from it! Awesome feeder! Love it! Happy birding!

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  4. Hello, any ideas for other seed feeders? I've had starlings here for going on 8 months and i am going crazy, they consume 40 pounds of food in ONE day!. I have upside suet feeders, they adapt, I have covered my seed feeders with deep domes, they don't care, I have tried just about everything including removing my feeders for weeks which I've done several times and still they appear the day my feeders are back out and devour everything. I'm at my wits end here and would love to know if there's anything that will fix this issue or at least help. Thank you in advance.

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    1. Hi Kellbell,

      For seed feeders you will probably need a cage. This is really the only option to keep starlings out of feeders. The cage has to be at least 13" in diameter and should have 1.5" x 1.5" mesh. You can also try offering safflower but be aware that not all bird eat this seed. It will only attract cardinals, chickadees, doves, House Finches and grosbeaks. For suet the same thing is true you will need starling proof suet feeders, which are basically suet feeders in a cage. Here is a link to our website with more tips on stopping starlings: https://barrie.wbu.com/problem-solving-blackbirds

      Kristen

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