Monday, April 2, 2012

Bird Seed Experiment

Bird Seed Experiment

Last week I wrote about Starlings. One of the links suggested discouraging them from the feeders by using safflower seed instead of sunflower seed. It said that the other birds would love the safflower seeds but all the blackbirds – starlings, grackles, and redwing blackbirds – would leave it alone.

As the blackbirds, grackles in particular, were eating most of the seed, I decided an experiment was in order. So I bought some safflower seed. These seeds looked different, a stark white instead of black. We filled two of the feeders with it and left the sunflower seeds in the other feeders until they ran out. Each time we passed the kitchen window we peeked out to see who was munching on what.

At first it seemed that the information was correct; the grackles munched on the sunflower seeds and left the safflower seeds alone. The cardinals shifted back and forth between feeders, as did the finches. Then the sunflower seed ran out. The blackbirds were not happy. They hopped over to taste the new seed and left, disgusted. The other birds were testing it out, too. They seemed to prefer the original meal but most came back. It didn’t seem to bother the tufted titmouse, or the chickadee. We even saw a woodpecker munching away. The flocks of blackbirds that sweep in and decimate the feeders were not present. A lone grackle would show up and soon leave. The experiment was working! And then…

There it was. A grackle was eating the new seed! I thought it would leave once it realized this was not the delicious sunflower seed it was used to finding. It didn’t. The bird took another seed, and another. It didn’t seem upset at all. Now comes the question – Was this an aberration or an adaptation? Would this lone bird alert its flock that the change on the menu was okay? Were we participating in an evolutionary shift?

It’s too early to tell where this will end. All I know is if the blackbirds will eat both kinds of seeds, the sunflower seeds cost less. To be continued…


  1. What a wonderful variety of birds in your backyard! But then, I suppose it is the "Field of Dreams" principle: "if you fill them, they will come!"

    And this made me laugh: "The blackbirds were not happy. They hopped over to taste the new seed and left, disgusted."

    1. The blackbirds disappeared for a while, Camille, but so did most of the other birds, too. So we refilled the feeders with sunflower and safflower sees together. It confused all the feathered visitors for a while but I could almost see them shrug their wings, then chow down.