When I worked for a wild bird feeding store, as snow melted people would ask, “When do I stop feeding birds?”

Some of the concern is that birds will rely on bird feeders and not seek out “natural foods.” That’s not really a concern, I mean, your peanut butter suet and black oil sunflower seeds may be awesome, but they really can compare to an early spring insect hatch. It’s like comparing  EasyCheese to a well aged cheddar…both tasty, but really, no comparison.

The other concern is the influx of blackbirds or grackles showing up at the feeders. That is an understandable, but surmountable problem.

purple finch



It’s a fun time at the feeders, you don’t know what could show up.  You still have the birds that spend the winter in the US like Dark-eyed Juncos and Purple Finches but you never know what will pop up next. Sparrows will be moving through soon and scattering some white millet on the ground can yield a surprise Harris’s Sparrow or Lincoln’s Sparrow.

rose-breasted grosbeak


But you can get fun spring migrants like the Rose-breasted Grosbeak showing up. It could be argued that spring feeding is somewhat important, as winter birds have plowed through available berries and nuts and natural foods could be more scarce, but there’s still quite a bit out there  for the birds to forage on. If there is anything that the birds are at risk for, it’s a dirty bird feeder. As rain shifts to snow and yards become muddy, keeping the feeders filled, much less clean is a task few people relish, but it is so important to avian health. A salmonella outbreak from moldy seed can decimate a migratory flock.  If you aren’t going to clean the feeders, you may as well not even fill them, it really is the safest thing for birds.

common grackle

So what can you do if you have a whole bunch of Common Grackles coming in to your feeders? They have a tendency to go through several pounds of seed quickly…but you can offer safflower to keep them at bay.

chickadee safflower


Safflower is an all white seed that is not as tasty to birds as sunflower, but works well to the delight of chickadees, mourning doves, titmice, grosbeaks, cardinals and many finches. It’s usually best to offer it by itself, if you  mix it with other seeds, they grackles will push it out in favor of the foods they enjoy.

So keep the feeders full and as long as you enjoy watching the birds, keep the feeders filled.


Written by Birdchick
Sharon Stiteler was given a Peterson Field Guide to Birds when she was seven years old and snapped. She loves birds - it’s just the way she’s wired. Since 1997, she has made it her goal to get paid to go birding. She runs the popular birding blog, Birdchick.com, and has been in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and on NBC Nightly News as well as making regular appearances on Twin Cities’ TV and radio stations. She’s a professional speaker and story-teller and her writing can be found in several publications including WildBird Magazine, Outdoor News, and Birding Business. She wrote the books 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know, Disapproving Rabbits and City Birds/Country Birds. When she’s not digiscoping, tweeting or banding birds, she’s a part-time park ranger and award-winning beekeeper.