The sparrows seem to be overtaking our birdfeeder for the finches even though it’s one of those that requires the birds to eat “upside down.” How can I deter the sparrows from throwing thistle all around, wasting it, and interfering with the finches? Would it help to wrap the feeder with a kind of chicken wire that might only allow the smaller finches inside to eat?
The sparrows overtaking your finch feeder are most likely English sparrows, commonly referred to as the house sparrow. They are hard to control around many backyard birdfeeders. They have a tendency to overpower feeders that have a variety of feeds intended for our more desirable native birds. Goldfinches and other small native birds will steer clear of feeders that are occupied by the English sparrows.
Here are two homemade control measures that have been deemed worth a try. The first is an inexpensive method developed by Weir Nelson of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and used on open port tube feeders with perches. Bend a 10-inch piece of flexible wire in half. Feed the wire through the port and loop it over one perch, then pull it tight and tie off around the other perch. When completed, you’ll have two parallel strands of wire stretched through the center of the port between the opposite perches. The two strands of wire discourage the sparrow from easily extracting seeds from the feed port. It has no effect on finches, chickadees, nuthatches, or other songbirds.
The second method is to shorten the length of perches on thistle tube feeders so they only extend 5/8 of an inch. The shortened perches will not disrupt the ability of goldfinch, house finch, and other members of the finch family from feeding, but should deter the sparrows.
Commercially there is a product available called “The Magic Halo” that seems to be effective. When used in conjunction with either a post-mounted or hanging feeder, it is said to deter up to 86 percent of the English sparrows. With monofilament lines added to the “Halo” at four corners extending below the perches, the elimination of English sparrows from the feeder is said to exceed 99 percent.
There are also several feeders available that have a screen or cage around the actual feeder. It will let the small birds feed while keeping bigger species from getting to the seeds. In general, to discourage unwanted visitors from your feeders, don’t use cracked corn or millet, and don’t use feed mixes, unless they are free of the aforementioned ingredients. Try seeds that are species specific. Many songbirds love black oil sunflower seeds, for example, and will not miss the mixes.