Feeding birds is fun, i.e., until the grackles show up.
Grackles shove other birds away from platform feeders. They knock smaller birds away from hanging bird feeders, and they monopolize the bird bath. They steal the young of other birds.
Grackles conceal the odor of their nestlings’ waste by dropping it in water. Your bird bath or your swimming pool will do just fine.
And grackles will attack anything that looks like the big egg of one of their predators. Like your uncle’s bald head.
Like your baby’s hairless head.
To make matters worse, grackles will gather in hundreds or thousands to roost together in the winter.
Their excrement can turn your lawn and sidewalks white.
You can get rid of grackles. Federal laws in both the USA and Canada don’t allow you to kill migratory birds — including grackles — but you can remove them humanely.
Remove any source of food grackles can access easily
The best possible way to get off grackles is to force them to go somewhere else to find food.
It’s especially important to make sure you don’t have food lying around that can feed hundreds or thousands of grackles.
Grackles prefer to eat food they find on the ground.
They will eat seeds of all kinds, bugs, worms, lizards, and other birds that nest on the ground.
Grackles can also chow down on fruit, frogs, and fish.
And they will fly up to a bird feeder in a pinch. All of this means that it’s hard to block access to all kinds of food sources to get rid of grackles
It’s absolutely essential to keep your garden and yard debris-free. Don’t leave anything out for grackles to eat.
That includes uncovered compost piles. That means you need to secure the lids to trash cans with bungee cords.
That means you need to place trash cans on a rack so the wind and larger animals cannot upturn them.
Don’t leave pet food out in your yard. If you are feeding feral cats kitty kibble, make sure they eat from an indoor ledge.
And take a break from feeding other birds until you get rid of grackles. The birds you love will come back after you stop grackle attacks.
Install bird spikes on surfaces where grackles roost
If you have a serious grackle problem, you know where grackles roost — anywhere and everywhere they can!
Uncountable numbers of grackles roost on power lines, posts, poles, ledges, awnings, roofs, and trees.
Bird spikes protect selected spaces from roosting grackles.
Bird spikes are clear plastic spears that are placed close enough together that grackles can find a way to stretch out their toes to grasp their roost.
You put out bird spikes on horizontal spaces. Installing them on vertical spaces just gives problem birds a support grid for building nests.
It’s easy to install the relatively small bird spikes that keep grackles away.
They come in strips with an adhesive backing. Just clean the surface you want to protect from any bird droppings or dirt, peel off the paper backing, and lay down the adhesive strip.
Don’t leave any spaces for grackles to perch. But don’t get carried away. You usually only need one strip of bird spikes per roosting surface.
Polyethylene plastic spikes aren’t visible from the ground. They’ll improve your home’s curb appeal by keeping the grackles away.
Shorten or remove feeder perches
Grackles can’t hover and eat bird-seed. They need to come in for a landing to get the seed. If they can’t find a feeder perch, they aren’t going to hang around very long.
Small birds like chickadees, on the other hand, don’t have to have a perch to munch on bird seeds from your feeder.
Other small birds will use their toes and legs to cling to the feeder as they get their birdseed, but grackles are too large to do this.
If you have just a few grackles, and you want to continue feeding other birds, shortening and removing perches is the way to deal with the problem without losing all of your birds.
Many bird feeders have removable perches. You may be able to remove “permanent” perches with a gentle tap with a hammer.
Some bird feeders have removable domes and rings that work as squirrel baffles. Lowering them will discourage grackles.2
Put in a motion-activated water sprinkler
Motion-activated water sprinklers send out a spray of water as 20 feet (6 meters) from the sprinkler head in all directions when they detect a bird or animal in motion.
Water sprinklers are especially effective at shooing away grackles at the beginning of the winter when they like to roost together in huge numbers.
Since grackles like to feed on the ground, they are more affected by water sprinklers than other birds.
Of course, water sprinklers also deter pigeons, raccoons, skunks, dogs, cats, and some mice and rats from visiting your lawn.
If they are aimed horizontally, and bird feeders are elevated, you may even be able to continue feeding other birds while keeping most grackles away.
Different sensor systems have different coverage areas. You may need several sprinkler units to cover your entire lawn.
If you live in an area with water restrictions, this grackle deterrent may not be permitted, and using it can result in reports by neighbors and possible fines.
Apply bird-repellent gel to grackle roosting areas and perches
A variety of bird-repellent gels are available to repel grackles.
Some products are based on a chemical called polybutene. It’s the same chemical that makes lip gloss spreadable.
In the right formulation, a few drops of this chemical can make roosting spots too slippery for grackles to light on them.
Some products use capsaicin in a binder. Capsaicin is the chemical that makes chili peppers hot. It can aggravate bird feet and beaks (and it can burn your skin if you aren’t careful when you put it out.
Some of the most effective products are made with a chemical called methyl anthranilate.
This is an FDA- and Health Canada-approved food additive that tastes like grapes to humans. But it gives birds sinus headaches.
None of these products will kill birds. They will just make them very uncomfortable so they will fly away.
How do you put out bird repellents?
Before you apply the product:
- Clean the surface to be treated thoroughly. Remove droppings, dirt, and debris. This is necessary housekeeping even if you don’t put out chemicals. Let the washed surface dry completely before you put out the chemical.
- Make sure that you don’t inhale dust from bird droppings. Wear gloves so you don’t pick up bacterial or fungal infections.
- If the surface you need to treat is porous, seal it with a sealer. Or just paint over it.
- Make sure you are applying the product at the right air temperature.
- Make sure you aren’t applying the product to a place where desirable birds come together.
To apply the product:
- Open the tip of the tube for easy application. Cut off the tip of the tube at an angle.
- Load the product in a caulking gun.
- When you are squeezing out the product, press the tip of the tube against the surface so it sticks better.
- Don’t cover the entire surface with bird repellent. Put out beads of the product.
- Read instructions about how far apart to put drops of bird repellent. Usually, you need just one line of drops of repellent 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the edge of a ledge 4 inches (10 cm) wide or narrower. Place the drops about an inch (2.5 cm) from the edge of the ledge. Create an additional row of drops 2 inches (5 cm) behind the first for ledges more than 4 inches (10 cm) wide.
- Be sure to leave room for water to drain.
You can lay down strips of water-resistant tape on the surface you are protecting and then put the repellent on the tape.
That way if you need to clean up, you just pull up the tape.
Install a fake owl or hawk
Owls and hawks hunt and eat grackles. Grackles will instinctively avoid areas where they see owls and hawks waiting for them.
Effective owl and hawk “scarecrows” are hand-painted with colors that match the real birds. They are animatronic.
That means that they can move in ways that imitate real owls and hawks. Usually, decoy owls and hawks with animatronics will have solar-powered batteries for their power supply.
Most decoy owls and hawks will have eyes that flash red and yellow at night. They may rotate and make owl or hawk sounds.
Decoy owls and hawks will cause other species of birds to avoid your property, too.
But sometimes you have to get a grackle problem under control before you can invite other birds back.
It helps to move your decoy raptor every few days, so grackles won’t catch on to the fact that it is fake. Faux predators are seldom enough by themselves to keep grackles away, but they help.
Remove the places grackles roost
It’s not hard to find the places grackles roost. Just look up, carefully, from the piles of poop you find beneath them.
Grackles spend the night on utility lines, on the branches of dead trees, on ledges, and on eaves and awnings.
You can’t remove some of these roosting places, but you can cut down dead trees and take down clotheslines.
You can also prune living trees and shrubs so their branches aren’t as dense.
Lone grackles don’t like to hang out in open places. Removing roosting sites keeps small numbers of grackles away.
It can reduce the larger flocks of grackles that cause big problems for homeowners and commercial maintenance crews.
Put up reflectors
No bird likes to fly into flashing lights.
They may be OK with lights that are on continuously (although night lights will interfere with their breeding cycles), but reflective surfaces making random motions in bright sunlight disorient them.
It’s not hard to put up a few reflectors to help keep grackles away.
You can hang balls of crumpled aluminum foil on a fishing line from the eaves of your roof or from branches of dead trees.
You can suspend used compact disks for larger reflective surfaces.
If you would like a more elegant reflective surface (although if you are fighting an invasion of grackles, elegance may not be foremost on your mind), try reflecting spirals you can buy a birding supply or home improvement store.
There are also reflective scare rods that look like antennas.
They bend in the wind and keep grackles off balance so they fly away.
Or lay down reflective tape on ledges that shines sunlight into grackle eyes and makes a crunch when the birds step on it.
Go Fly a Predator kite
A kite is a visual grackle deterrent that you don’t have to hang from an elevated surface. Predator kites are designed to look like owls, hawks, or eagles to birds flying above them.
They scare grackles away and keep them from using your property as a roosting or nesting site.
You can tie the kite to a tree or the side of your house so it bounces around in the wind like a real raptor flying on updrafts and downdrafts.
You’ll need to buy a kite designed to look like a predator bird, and you’ll need to make sure it’s made from a tough material like Mylar so it doesn’t get torn up in strong winds.
Predator kites are a great way to get your kids involved in grackle control. Just be sure to reconnect the kite to its usual surface when your kids move on to another activity.
Ultrasound generators generate a high-frequency pitch that humans can’t hear but grackles find distracting. Or even painful.
These units may also drive away bats, squirrels, mice, and rats, although furry pests get used to them in a day or two.
Grackles won’t fly around along to become habituated to the noise.
Your cat and dog may not appreciate this form of grackle control. This brings us to another form of grackle control.
Dogs and cats
Since grackles like to feed on the ground, pet dogs and cats can keep themselves entertained all day running them away.
Your pets, however, won’t be able to deter hundreds or thousands of grackles.
Keep an eye on smaller pets to make sure they aren’t harmed by the birds.
When all else fails
Your city, state, or provincial wildlife service can give you suggestions for effective grackle control.
Don’t give in to the temptation to kill grackles. You’ll never kill enough of them, and you would be breaking the law.
Using the right combination of deterrent methods will eventually get rid of grackles for good.
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