Starlings

Starlings flock around the sewage plant in Pittsfield. These birds can be difficult to deter from inundating your home feeders. 

Q: Your last few Saturday columns in The Berkshire Eagle have been of particular interest, as we have restocked our Absolute feeder and also received a large double-sided bird feeder as a Christmas gift. What fun and enjoyment we have been having with so many bird varieties coming to the feeders. One early January day, we had so many birds in the yard, including a male and female bluebird, although, they were interested in the winterberry from the window boxes rather than the bird food.

Everything has been great until the starlings appeared. They are greedy, rude, messy bullies! Do you have any tips on keeping them away? We live near Brattlebrook Park, so all kinds of wildlife are in the area. Thank you for any suggestions you may have.

— Ann N., Pittsfield

A: I must agree with your comment about the starlings, “They are greedy, rude, messy bullies!” I only have been inundated by a flock of adults and young later in the summer. They begin at the far end of the mowed field behind our house by helping us by clearing away grubs and approaching closer to our home; eventually, they notice our suet feeder that hangs from a second-floor window (bear-proof). Like a hoard of locusts on a crop, they inundate the suet feeder until I tire of them, within minutes of their arrival, and remove it.

I did rehang it with our other bird feeders, again outside of a second-floor window when fall arrived. That window is where I take the photographs of feeder birds that have been accompanying this column.

Thus far, I have not had them bothering our seed feeders. One seed feeder has a wire mesh cage around it that does not allow starling-size birds to enter. The replacement suet feeder that I use now is unique. It is an upside-down feeder that nuthatches, chickadees, downy, and red-bellied woodpeckers feed on here with no problems. Starlings cannot, or have not, attempted to use it since its installation. I have read on the Internet, at one site, that some starlings will try to eat at this style feeder, however. I do not believe it.

Another site suggests that pure suet found at meat counters at most grocery stores do not interest starlings or grackles. We would purchase chunks of “pure” suet, asking for the birds, at a grocery store. And the butcher sometimes would give it to me at no cost, all before the cute packaging for rendered and flavored suet cakes.

I cannot recall every bird that ate it. In the early days of my feeding the birds, the black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, downy, and a Pileated woodpecker come to our feeder suet.

There are other feeders for starling problems. One is a tubular feeder designed to hold seed for smaller birds fashioned within a wire cage. Also, you can encase almost any feeder in various size chicken wire or fencing. The filling may take time to incorporate into the design.

And my final suggestion (especially for Ann and her particular feeder), is taking down the feeder for a week or 10 days. The starlings will find other feeders to hassle — and the other birds will find food until you resume feeding them.

Q: Do otters — I think it was an otter — hibernate in winter? One warm day, a couple of weeks ago, I was out walking on Moran refuge on Route 8A in Windsor. It was overcast, but a good walk, and I saw along a bank a small, mostly iced-over pond and saw this long animal slide down the bank and run out of sight.

A: The River Otter does not hibernate and is active throughout the year, although, active mostly at night, but not when having fun while playing during the daytime. I guess that it saw you and decided the better part of valor was to wait until you left to continue playing. Or maybe it went off to find some friends to play with together.

Q: I read the information about feeder birds you have in the Eagle. My problem is how to learn best what the different birds are, beyond the ones you have pictured. Probably the second day, a chickadee came, and they later brought other birds. Keep showing them, please. And if you have any ideas, pass them on.

— A new reader, Pittsfield

A: There are many sources from book stores to columns like this. For a beginner, though, I suggest a few sources, and the primer is Mass Audubon: www.massaudubon.org.

And, if you become “hooked,” and can’t get enough of feeder birds and “need” to know more about the birds here in the other seasons, not only in your yard but in parks, woods, wetlands, on mountain tops, and along the back roads and highways, consider joining the premiere bird club in central Berkshire, The Hoffmann Bird Club, at www.hoffmannbirdclub.org.

READER COMMENTS

I have wanted to write you about book I got a couple of years ago at the Lenox Library book sale for under $5. It is about winter, and being pretty much sequestered in the house most of the time, I have been reading it. The name is "A Guide to Nature in Winter" by Donald Stokes. It’s old, 1976, but a smart volume. I never knew as much about this season. It is a nature guide!

— Nancy E.