Starlings And Woodpeckers: Eternal Enemies

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Steve Kroenke
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Starlings And Woodpeckers: Eternal Enemies

Postby Steve Kroenke » Thu Jul 14, 2005 9:25 am

Starlings and Woodpeckers: Eternal Enemies

The European starling is a formidable competitor of many North American woodpecker species. One of the favorite nest sites of a starling is a fresh woodpecker hole. Such nest sites attract starlings like a biological magnet, particularly if the woodpecker’s cavity is located in an urban open area or area with scattered trees. In the eastern United States and Canada, starlings compete primarily with three North American woodpecker species: flicker, red-bellied woodpecker, and red-headed woodpecker. Starlings, for the most part, have proven themselves superior in out competing all of these woodpecker species. The aggressive red-headed woodpecker will prevail more often in defending its nest hole against starlings than the flicker or red-bellied woodpecker; the red-bellied is an inferior competitor with starlings compared to the other woodpeckers. Though all these woodpeckers have much more powerful bills and could easily kill a starling with a well-placed blow, they rarely do it. Woodpeckers, for the most part, are just not on equal terms behaviorally with the starling. The starling’s aggressive behavior, persistence, and powerful physical attributes will often prevail over the stronger woodpeckers. Starlings will literally fight to the death inside a nest cavity. Most woodpeckers do not have such a killing instinct to procreate and will yield to such aggression from starlings.

Starlings Were Genetically Ready For North America:

It is important to understand that starlings have been competing in their European homeland for thousands of years with European woodpeckers, such as the green and spotted woodpeckers. And for the most part, starlings prevail in behavioral interactions with these woodpeckers. The green woodpecker is comparable in size to our flicker and the spotted woodpeckers are similar to our red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers. So starlings had many thousands of years to develop competition behavior with woodpeckers, including fighting strategies, and embed such behavior in their genes. When starlings were released in North America over 100 years ago, they were genetically ready to take on this new world based on their old world success. What worked in competing with European woodpeckers has worked with North American woodpeckers. Starlings already had a tremendous competitive advantage stored in their genes.

A New Enemy For Woodpeckers

North American woodpeckers had no serious nest competitors prior to the arrival of the starling. The arrival of the starling completely changed the face of competition for woodpeckers and has forced them to alter their nesting behavior. These woodpeckers can easily hold their own with most other native hole nesting birds and had thousands of years to develop behavioral adaptations. With starlings, North American woodpeckers have only had a little over 100 years to evolve with this new competitor and this is simply insufficient in biological time. But woodpeckers have learned something that will work...more on that soon. European woodpeckers have been using this something for eons in their competition struggles with starlings.

Starlings Have Ruled Supreme

For many years, I observed inter-specific competition between starlings and all these woodpeckers in the Tallahassee, Florida area where I previously lived, and the results of these conflicts are most discouraging. During that time, I have only seen one pair of flickers, several pairs of red-headed, and NO red-bellied woodpeckers successfully defend their nest site when starlings actively tried to usurp it. The red-bellied woodpecker is the most common species in this area and takes the brunt of starling competition; this woodpecker is an inferior competitor with starlings relative to the flicker and red-headed woodpecker. In the starling infested urban areas, woodpeckers have a difficult time successfully breeding during the spring. They are literally driven from hole to hole as they continue their futile quest to breed. Some pairs will excavate several holes and starlings will evict them every time. Woodpeckers, ironically, are one of the primary reasons for the continued population growth of starlings; the woodpeckers are unintentionally providing the nest holes for starlings to breed!

Woodpeckers Have Been Forced To Change Their Nesting Behavior

However, many woodpeckers are adapting to starling competition in two main ways. First, woodpeckers can still successfully nest in starling infested urban areas by nesting AFTER the main starling-breeding season has ended. This is how European woodpeckers may successfully breed in the face of starling competition; the starlings nest earlier and the woodpeckers later. In North Florida where I used to live, starlings are actively looking for nest sites in winter, often in December, January and February. Usually by mid March, many starlings are already building nests or even have laid eggs. Their nesting cycle usually runs into mid June and by then most will have finished raising their young, including any second broods. Woodpeckers, which may have lost their first nest holes to starlings, are adapting to starling competition by re-nesting later in the season, often in late May and through August. I have seen this later nesting phenomenon occur all the time in North Florida, particularly for red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers. The red-bellied woodpecker will nest late in the summer and I had them fledge young from a birdhouse one year during the first week in October. Red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers are often seen feeding young in late July or August. However, some woodpeckers, particularly flickers, have not been as adaptive in delaying their breeding until later in the summer and successfully fledging their young. Northern flickers are migratory in many cases so they need to complete their breeding earlier.

And second, red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers have another adaptation for competing with starlings. These woodpeckers will also retreat to more forested areas that are not favored by starlings. Red-bellied woodpeckers can often be found nesting in heavily wooded areas. Starlings prefer urban areas or farmlands for the most part and usually are not found in deep woods or swamps. Starlings require open lawns, pastures and roadsides with short grass for foraging for insects to feed their young. Starling can’t walk in long grass, thickets or heavy forests.

As mentioned earlier, starlings start nest hunting very early and are often exploring potential sites in the dead of winter. Last year’s woodpecker holes are readily taken even though many are still being used by woodpeckers as roosting sites. Red-headed woodpeckers and flickers may return to their previous nest sites and remodel them for the upcoming breeding season. Many times these woodpeckers will find their old homes commandeered by starlings. And this may result in a situation where woodpeckers and starlings will nest together in the same dead tree. Sometimes woodpeckers will excavate another nest hole in the same dead tree, often not more than a few feet from an active starling nest. In the few cases that I have observed, I did not witness any fighting between the two species. Both carried on their normal nesting duties and stayed away from each other. The original starling pair seemed to keep other starlings away from the immediate area that included the active woodpecker nest hole.

Starlings Know Exactly How To Steal A Woodpecker’s Nest Hole

Starlings are fully aware of a woodpecker’s nesting behavior. Starlings will stake out a pair of woodpeckers that are in the process of excavating a nest hole. Starlings know exactly what to do to evict a woodpecker from its nest. The male starling selects the territory and will start displaying from a nearby perch to attract a mate and warn other males to keep away. He will point his beak upwards, spread and fan his wings, and emit his unique whistling call. Though the male starling plays the primary role in evicting a woodpecker pair, any female he recruits will usually participate as necessary. Initially, the male starling is passive as the woodpeckers continue to excavate their nest hole. He will try to sneak into the nest hole anytime the woodpeckers are away. If he succeeds in entering and the nest hole is large enough to accommodate his nest, then he will transform from a passive onlooker to a ferocious competitor that will fight fiercely.

Woodpeckers Rarely Use Their Powerful Beaks To The Fullest Against Starlings

Woodpeckers are physically capable of defending their nests from starlings and inflicting mortal wounds on starlings, but woodpeckers infrequently do it. Woodpeckers possess very powerful chisel like beaks, strong neck and head muscles, muscular bodies, strong claws, and sufficient size to compete equally with starlings. But woodpeckers have short legs and short legs are a significant disadvantage when competing with starlings that have long legs. However, woodpeckers, for the most part, do not have the behavioral machismo, fighting techniques nor persistence to battle starlings until victorious. Woodpeckers are often behaviorally incapable of out competing starlings in physical combat. They rarely employ their powerful beaks to their fullest potential. Woodpeckers usually give up after a short, but intense struggle with starlings. These struggles are often decided in a single day, though aggressive red-headed woodpeckers or flickers will sometimes hold out longer. One day the woodpeckers are there, and the next they are gone with starlings in full possession of the nest hole.

The Starling Is A Smart Fighting Machine

Starlings possess a killing, dagger like beak, strong, muscular body, and long, powerful legs and sharp claws. Their long, powerful legs allow starlings to stand over an adversary and use their killing beak to inflict horrible wounds. A starling, using its long legs, can pin a woodpecker to the bottom of a nest hole. Then the starling can stand over the woodpecker and peck savagely. In conjunction with their powerful bodies, starlings are behaviorally powerful and persistent--they almost never give up in a struggle for a nest site. They will fight literally to the death and for a long time.

Starlings are also extremely cunning, and yes, very intelligent as far as birds go. They have developed efficient behavioral strategies for evicting woodpeckers and other North American hole nesting birds. These strategies have worked for thousands of years with European woodpeckers and have worked very well with North American woodpeckers, too.

Starlings will play a game whereby they heckle and harass a woodpecker that is defending the nest hole from the inside. As long as the woodpecker is inside the cavity with its formidable beak blocking the entrance hole, then starlings may have a difficult time entering. The male starling will fly to the nest hole and try to lure the woodpecker out. Initially this may work and the woodpecker will come out and chase the starlings. This is exactly what the starlings want. Then the male starling or starling pair will immediately make a mad dash for the nest hole and try to enter. If this strategy doesn’t work, then they will wait nearby and dart into the hole the moment the woodpecker is away. The starlings are patient and persistent.

Once the starling enters the nest hole, then the starling usually wins the battle. Initially, the woodpecker may brace itself against the tree and then quickly thrust its beak into the nest hole in an attempt to pull the starling out. Flickers and red-headed woodpeckers will sometimes succeed in grabbing the starling’s beak and then pulling him out. If the starling is lower in the nest cavity, then the woodpecker will not be successful and may enter the hole to battle the starling at close quarters. Most woodpeckers, particularly the red-bellied, will be beaten in close quarter conflicts with starlings inside the nest cavity. The long legs of the starling allow the starling to stand over a more powerful, but shorter legged woodpecker. The starling will then go into a killing frenzy and employ both a stabbing and drilling motion with its dagger like beak that effectively removes feathers and eventually pierces the skin. The starling stabs its victim, twists its dagger like beak in a drilling motion back and forth while pushing inward. Such an action tears out feathers, punctures flesh, and can remove eyes. Weak birds like martins and bluebirds are horribly mauled in close quarter battles with starlings. Strong birds like woodpeckers can usually escape from the clutches of a starling, but not always.

EXAMPLES OF COMPETITION BETWEEN WOODPECKERS AND STARLINGS

Flicker Versus Starling

A male flicker had excavated a nest hole in a dead pecan tree branch. The male flicker was single, but often called loudly to attract a mate. I had observed during the excavation phase a male starling sitting about 20 feet away from the flicker. The starling displayed and emitted his unique whistling call, pointing his head upwards, and fanning his wings. He was calling for a mate. The male flicker would often attack and chase the starling away if he got too close to the flicker’s nest.

At first, the flicker fiercely defended his nest hole and I would sometimes see the flicker and starling gripped in combat as both birds tumbled toward the ground. The larger, more powerful flicker could defend itself, but the starling was more persistent and aggressive. As long as the flicker remained in the nest hole with its formidable beak blocking the entrance, then the flicker could keep the starling out.

However, the male starling had recruited a mate and both heckled and harassed the flicker every chance they got. During one these harassment encounters, the flicker charged both starlings and chased them through the branches of the pecan tree. This was exactly what the starlings wanted.

Taking advantage of the flicker’s momentary absence, both starlings darted into the nest hole. The flicker braced itself against the tree and began thrusting his beak into the nest hole, but was unsuccessful in pulling the starlings out, as they had dropped to the bottom of the cavity. He then plunged into the hole to battle with both starlings; part of the flicker’s tail was sticking out of the entrance to the nest. It was rather terrifying to imagine what blows were being delivered at such close quarters. A ferocious battle ensued as all kinds of unusual vocalizations and feathers poured from the hole. The flicker ejected one of the starlings, but then backed out of the hole, dragging the other starling with him. The flicker had the starling by its beak.

Clinched in mortal combat, both flicker and starling fluttered to the ground and rolled over and over. The starling’s long legs allowed him to stand over the flicker as both birds fought. Then in a minute or so both broke free and flew in opposite directions. Neither side was victorious at this point.

By the next day, the starlings were in full control of the nest hole and the flicker had disappeared. The starlings had already started carrying pine needles to the stolen nest hole.

Red-headed Woodpecker Versus Starling

A pair of red-headed woodpeckers was remodeling an old nest hole in a utility pole. Perhaps it was their nest from the previous year. The woodpeckers were carrying out pine needles, most likely old nesting material from a starling’s nest.

After about a week, I noticed several starlings sitting on the utility pole lines right above the nest hole. The red-heads were still in possession of the hole and vigorously chased the starlings if they flew too close.

I returned several times to observe the red-heads and starlings. On several occasions I saw a red-head drive a starling to the ground. But one time, the red-head’s momentary absence allowed a starling to enter the nest. The red-head braced itself against the telephone pole and started thrusting its beak inside the nest hole. The red-head succeeded in dragging the starling out and both locked in combat and fell to the ground. The red-head returned to its nest and entered.

For a few more days, the aggressive red-heads held the starlings at bay and maintained full control of their nest. But the tide finally turned against them. The starlings managed to sneak into the nest and destroyed the red-heads’ eggs. I found several pierced white eggs not far from the telephone pole. The red-heads had disappeared and the starlings were in full control of the cavity.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Versus Starling

I have always had red-bellied woodpeckers nest in birdhouses. One year they had chosen a hollow log house that I had erected about 20 feet up in a large pecan tree.

Within a few days after the red-bellied woodpeckers had selected their territory, I noticed a male starling bothering them. He would sit near the nest box, spread his wings, point his beak upwards and whistle for a mate. He was displaying and establishing territory.

The woodpeckers would chase him through the pecan tree, but he never left the area. I tried to shoot him many times, but I never was successful.

One morning, I heard loud red-bellied woodpecker alarm calls coming from their nest box. I rushed to the pecan tree and saw the male woodpecker moving nervously over the front of the birdhouse, but he would not enter. I figured the starling had managed to sneak into the
birdhouse so I clapped my hands loudly, and sure enough a starling quickly exited and flew away. But the male woodpecker still would not enter the box.

Within a minute or so, I saw the female red-bellied woodpecker’s head emerge from the entrance hole of the birdhouse. She then fell from the nest box and flew weakly to a nearby pine grove. I knew she had been horribly mauled in the encounter with the starling.

I climbed the tree and looked into the birdhouse. I gasped. The entire bottom of the box was filled with woodpecker feathers! I removed at least a handful of the woodpecker’s feathers, some of which were smeared with blood. She obviously had been severely beaten. The starling used his long legs to stand over her while she was pinned to the bottom of the nest box. He then savagely pecked and drilled his dagger like beak into her body, ripping out feathers and tearing flesh. I never saw her again.

Starlings And Woodpeckers: Eternal Enemies

The starling is the number one enemy of many of our native woodpeckers. Woodpeckers are often home building slaves to the hordes of starlings that roam and plunder the countryside. Starlings have proven themselves more than capable of out competing flickers and red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers. Though these woodpeckers have a difficult time breeding during the spring when the starlings’ breeding cycle is in full swing, these woodpecker species are managing to successfully breed in starling infested areas by re-nesting later in the season. Most starlings have reared their young and are no longer actively looking for nest sites. Starling competition is altering the nesting behavior of North American woodpeckers. There is no debate: starlings and woodpeckers are eternal enemies.

Steve Kroenke
Last edited by Steve Kroenke on Sun Feb 06, 2011 7:44 pm, edited 4 times in total.

Steve Kroenke
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Postby Steve Kroenke » Fri Feb 17, 2006 8:03 pm

Soon many of our woodpeckers will be excavating nest sites and many of these birds will face stiff competition from starlings. I am re-posting this article that shares some of my observations and thoughts about woodpeckers and starlings. Perhaps other folks have observed starlings evicting woodpeckers.

Steve

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Postby Steve Kroenke » Thu Oct 05, 2006 12:20 pm

Many folks may not realize how destructive starlings can be to woodpeckers. Perhaps the number one enemy of many North American woodpeckers is the starling which takes over their nest cavities. Over the years, I have observed numerous instances where starlings evicted flickers and red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers. In Tallahassee, Florida where I previously lived, the flicker population had been in rapid decline for years it seemed and I suspect starlings were to blame. Starlings are deadly enemies of woodpeckers.

Steve

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Sparky
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Postby Sparky » Thu Oct 05, 2006 2:35 pm

Steve,
Another excellent article. The Starlings are bad, bad, bad. This is another reason for their elimination. I read an article once about the forest service in South Carolina putting "pre made" woodpecker cavities in trees to save many of the species.

I wish we could train hawks and owls to go after Starlings and just leave the martins alone.
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Postby LarryMelcher/KY » Thu Oct 05, 2006 3:09 pm

Sparky, mind if I use your words?...

"Another excellent article. The Starlings are bad, bad, bad. This is another reason for their elimination."

Great Steve. Thanks for re-posting!
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Steve Kroenke
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Postby Steve Kroenke » Thu Oct 05, 2006 4:38 pm

Sparky/Larry,

In parts of Europe, the starling population is in decline. Some believe this is due in part to changes in farming practices that reduce leftover grain, changes in architectural designs which eliminates openings in building roofs where starlings often nest, and increases in feral cat and sparrow hawk (similar to our sharp-shinned hawk) populations. I read where the greater spotted woodpeckers in one region were often evicted from their cavities by starlings. However, with the decline in the starling population, the woodpeckers have made a comeback with limited starling competition problems.

Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks will prey on starlings year round, particularly in urban/suburban locations. Here is a link to a falconry article that describes in one section of how a falconer used his tiercel (male) Cooper's hawk to hunt starlings at huge roosts which plagued local businesses. The businesses had tried everything to chase the starlings away, but nothing worked. So they let the falconers turn their Cooper's hawks loose on the starlings! It worked! You need to go all the way down toward the end of the article and read the section called "Bat Hawking". It is fascinating!

http://www.americanfalconry.com/recipe.html

Steve

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Postby Steve Kroenke » Fri Jan 04, 2008 7:56 pm

Starlings are deadly enemies of our woodpeckers and inflict great harm to them every year during the breeding season. I am re-activating this older posting of mine dealing with starling and woodpecker competition. I am already seeing starlings checking out woodpecker cavities in and around Shreveport, Louisiana.

I have been reading where the decline in starlings in Europe is continuing to have a positive impact on the great spotted woodpecker species. Starlings are a primary nest competitor with this woodpecker in Europe and they usually prevail. Since starlings are now on the decline, the woodpeckers are making a comeback it seems and breeding more successfully.

Maybe some day starlings will decline over here and our woodpeckers will get some well deserved relief.

Steve

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Postby zoefluf » Sat Jan 05, 2008 2:02 pm

Steve,
You mentioned that starlings nest EARLIER than woodpeckers. Can you be more specific than that. WHEN do they start looking for nests?

I live in Southeastern Louisiana in St. Tammany Parish which is heavily forested. However since Hurricane Katrina our Parish has had a population explosion and the farmlands and woodlands are being decimated by greedy builders who are buying up property for subdivisions and clearing all of the wonderful pine forests. The animals are on the run. I have seen it over and over in the area.

This Parish has always been a nature and bird habitat. It has some of the cleanest air in the nation. It is sad to see what can happen when the forests are destroyed in the name of progress.

My property is definitely a woodpecker paridise. I see red-headed, yellow-bellied, sap-suckers, you name it - we have that woodpecker. Some of them are very large. In fact, we have a problem because of so many woodpeckers. They just love to punch holes into the wood on my outdoor gazebos, or anything wood. We have a lot of carpenter bees that make holes in the wood for their nests and the woodpeckers are trying to get at the bees.

So far, I have never even seen a starling on my property but after reading your post, I will be on the lookout for those evil invaders.
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Postby Steve Kroenke » Sat Jan 05, 2008 2:31 pm

Jeanne,

Starlings are already looking for nest sites in my area of Louisiana. In fact, male starlings start checking for possible nest cavities as early as December. The starling breeding season in our area of the Deep South begins to decline in intensity by late April and usually by mid-May you may not see male starlings actively seeking territory. Woodpeckers in this area excavate their first cavities usually in March or April. This year in mid-May I shot a lone rather passive male starling that was trying to check out some of Bob's martin houses and the martins were chasing the starling away.

If you live in a heavily forested area, you probably have a low starling population and little problems with them. My previous two large martin colonies in Tallahassee, Florida were located in such an area and I had zero starling problems for over 25 years. Starlings are walkers and must have short grassy lawns, pastures, and similar sites to forage for insects to feed their young. That is often the reason many folks have no starling competition problems because the terrain where they live is not good starling foraging habitat.

I am guessing you have a large woodpecker population because of the forested terrain and few problems with starlings. However, if your area is being opened up and sites with short grasses follow, then starlings may start to move in and offer competition for the woodpeckers.

Steve

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Postby Gary W » Sat Jan 05, 2008 11:37 pm

Hi Steve,

Thanks for posting that very interesting information! If Cooper's Hawks would just focus on Starlings, that would be great! I live in southwest central Florida, and we have an introduced Parakeet species called the Black-Hooded Parakeet which nests in tree cavities. It's probably a little smaller than a Flicker. This Parakeet can commandeer prime nesting cavities from Starlings in my Florida county. Apparently, the Starlings cannot handle that parrot beak which must be a powerful weapon when fighting inside a cavity. I think this Parakeet species must be hard on Flickers too, because I hardly ever see them in my urban area.

This will be the third year that I am hanging in a tree, a bird box called a "Starling-Resistant Flicker House". It has a Plexiglas panel that is attached in front of the entry hole, which extends about six inches below the opening. The concept is that a Starling cannot climb up the wooden front to reach the hole, but a woodpecker could. So far I haven't had a woodpecker figure out how to use this house yet, but I am not giving up hope. The house is about 17 feet high in the tree.

I also have another woodpecker house in another tree in my yard with an entry hole size of 1 9/16 inches. I have a metal panel around this hole to prevent widening by squirrels or woodpeckers. I've read that a Great-Crested Flycatcher can enter this size hole, but a Starling cannot. Last year I had a pair of Flycatchers try to enter the Starling Resistant Woodpecker house, but they like the Starlings, cannot climb up the wooded panel to the entry hole. I have another Woodpecker house up with a metal Modified Excluder entry hole, just to see if a Flycatcher or some other native cavity-nester might be able to use it. As you can tell, any bird box that I hang in by yard has to stop Starlings and Black-Hooded Parakeets!

Gary

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Postby Steve Kroenke » Sun Jan 06, 2008 8:09 am

Hey Gary,

Thanks for sharing all that interesting information about another exotic from Florida, the black hooded parakeet! Florida with is sub-tropical climate is the home of an ever increasing number of non-native species of animals and plants, many of which have proven to be detrimental to native critters. I lived most of my life in the Tallahassee area and we did not have all the exotic stuff up there!

At one time in the St. Petersburg, Florida area, there was a large population of non-native budgerigars or the common parakeets. These parakeets did compete with native woodpeckers, particularly the red-bellied, and were even known to nest in martin houses. However, these smaller parakeets were not so successful with starlings I believe. Plus Accipiter hawks frequently caught the parakeets, too. I don't believe the parakeets are as common anymore in the St. Petersburg area.

Flickers at one time were relatively common in the Tallahassee area, but I rarely saw them after the early 70s. I don't know if the starlings finally drove this species out or what. Flickers often will not retreat to heavily forested areas to nest or are not as successful in nesting much later in the season like the red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers.

I have seen pictures of the starling resistant woodpecker box you are using. Woodpeckers could cling to the box and move up under the plexiglas panel, but perhaps some woodpeckers are reluctant to do this. Starlings do have sharp nails and powerful legs and they may be able to do this on rustic lumber like cedar.

The 1 and 9/16 inch diameter hole is a most tight fit for a great crested flycatcher and I doubt many of these flycatchers would use such an entrance. The crested flycatcher is a little larger than a bluebird and is probably equal or close in girth size to a purple martin. Flycatchers prefer an entrance hole of 2 inches in diameter or more and this, of course, will admit starlings. Also, the srehs may exclude flycatchers if these birds can't learn to flatten their bodies and wiggle in like the martins can do.

Crested flycatchers will nest later in the season and at low altitudes. You may be able to attract these birds to a box placed about five off the ground in May or even early June. Starlings and black hooded parakeets may not be interested in such a location and most male starlings would probably be not looking to breed in your area of Florida at the time.

You may be able to attract red-bellied woodpeckers to a regular birdhouse later in the nesting season in your area. I have had them breed in boxes in north Florida all through the summer when the starling nesting cycle is over. The black hooded parakeets may nest all the time!

Thanks for sharing information about the black hooded parakeet and hope you have great martin season in 2008.

Steve

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Gary W
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Postby Gary W » Sun Jan 06, 2008 7:41 pm

Hi Steve,

You are right about the budgerigars. They used to be quite common here in Pinellas County in the mid 1970's. At one time I would catch them at my Grandomother's birdfeeder by sneaking up to the feeder, and then throw a towel over it. They made great pets! In the late 1970's Starlings began to move in here in large numbers. Those little budgerigars could not compete with such a large aggressive bird. They did however compete very well with House Sparrows before the Starlings appeared. They could actually evict them from a bird box. Well as they say, "what comes around, goes around". Now the Starling has been dethroned as the "king of cavity competition" by the Black-Hooded Parakeet. There are still many Starlings around here despite the presence of the Parakeets.

In reference to the entry holes I am using, I will just see what happens this year. Maybe if a Flycatcher is determined enough, he will negotiate the tight fit. I definitely do want to erect a bird box that can admit Starlings. I just can't stand seeing them breed! The SREH's have been a God-Send for the Purple Martin!

Gary

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Postby Steve Kroenke » Sun Feb 06, 2011 7:55 pm

One of the worst enemies of our native woodpeckers is the European starling. The starling LOVES fresh woodpecker cavities and will out-compete most woodpeckers and steal their nest holes.

I have seen numerous competition struggles between starlings and woodpeckers and the starlings won nearly every one.

Starlings are not only enemies of purple martins and the woodpeckers suffer terribly in many areas during the starling's main breeding time.

I am re-posting this older article on starlings and woodpeckers. I am sure other folks have observed starlings driving out woodpeckers.

Steve
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300+ pairs of martins each season

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KathyF
Posts: 3423
Joined: Thu May 24, 2007 1:57 pm
Location: Missouri/Licking
Martin Colony History: Colony started - 2007 with one pair
As of 2016 - 84 cavities offered, max # of pairs hosted - 82.

Postby KathyF » Sun Feb 06, 2011 9:22 pm

Steve - great post! I happened upon a brief battle between a starling and an American Kestral yesterday for a nest cavity in a 20' high branchless, dead tree. The starling left and I saw the Kestral there again today....hopefully, the starling won't sabotage any eventual egg-laying efforts by the Kestrals later. They are such a menace to all cavity nesting birds. :-(

At least we can slow them down with the SREH, but there's just nothing we can do for our other cavity nesters (except trap & shoot starlings year-round, I guess).
"Sometimes", said Pooh, "the smallest things take up the most room in your heart."
2016 - 82 pair
2015 - 76 pair
2014 - 75 pair
2013 - 75 pair
2012-72 pair
http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com

Steve Kroenke
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Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Postby Steve Kroenke » Sun Feb 06, 2011 9:46 pm

There is an interesting relationship between starlings and kestrels. A female kestrel can be about a foot long while the male is a little smaller and may average nine or ten inches in length. The starling is smaller at between 71/2 and 81/2 inches.

Both species nest in cavities, particularly those of the northern Flicker. So there is a conflict here.

Kestrels will on occasion catch small birds. I have seen a female kestrel try to capture goldfinches at Bob's bird feeders on cold days but I have never seen her successful. Kestrels are falcons but they are not that fast or agile as other falcons like the merlin. But kestrels probably prefer insects, mice, voles and small lizards and snakes.

However, I have read where starlings have even evicted kestrels on occasion from their nests by destroying the kestrels' eggs and filling the nest cavity with nesting material. Kestrels don't build nests and lay their eggs at the bottom of cavities.

You would think all starlings would view a kestrel as a danger like any falcon or Accipiter hawk and perhaps flee in terror. But this is not always the case during nesting time when male starlings are seeking territory. Some aggressive starlings apparently will compete successfully with kestrels. And I am sure there are aggressive kestrels than successfully fight and may even eat starlings that dare to try to take over!

I hope your kestrel continues to chase starlings off. Keep us posted on what happens later on as spring approaches.

Steve
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300+ pairs of martins each season

TOMC
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Joined: Mon May 05, 2014 6:58 pm
Location: PA/Halifax

Postby TOMC » Tue May 06, 2014 8:05 pm

One morning a few days ago, my wife pointed out a hole in tree next to our house, and said there are two different breeds of bird in that hole. I said, "are you sure?"

I grabbed my camera and the starling was poking out, calling. The next thing I knew, it exploded out followed closely by a flicker. The flicker chased the starling, but the starling veered sharply back into the hole, and I don't know where the flicker went. The starling inhabits the hole now.
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Steve Kroenke
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Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Postby Steve Kroenke » Tue May 06, 2014 9:07 pm

Hey Tomc,

Thank you for posting those excellent action photos of a starling and a flicker! I have seen many battles between starlings and flickers and nearly all have ended with the starlings winning and stealing the flickers' cavity.

Northern flickers appear to be declining in population and intense starling competition may be one reason for it. I haven't seen a nesting flicker in over 20 years. I used to see flickers nesting in northern Florida where I previously lived but that was YEARS ago. I haven't seen any flickers nesting over here in my area of Louisiana.

Thanks again for posting those photos!

Steve
PMCA Member

300+ pairs of martins each season

TOMC
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon May 05, 2014 6:58 pm
Location: PA/Halifax

flicker and starling

Postby TOMC » Fri May 09, 2014 10:54 am

You're welcome! I think I have good news-It appears the flicker won in this case- there are young bird noises, and two flickers have been seen entering and leaving the hole. I'll be trying to get more pictures.

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Sid T
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Joined: Mon May 05, 2014 1:23 pm
Location: WA/Snohomish

Starlings

Postby Sid T » Mon Jun 23, 2014 8:57 pm

Thank you all for the info on starlings. I have a number of them here in Snohomish County, WA. I have seen them try to get into my martin house but the 1 1/8 to 1 3/16 dia. oval holes keeps them out. Unfortunately I have not been able to attract any martins either. The starlings decimated my grape crop last fall in about two days they had eaten every grape on two large vines. This year I will be waiting for they with my 22 and shot loaded shells.

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Chris B
Posts: 257
Joined: Sun Jun 01, 2014 4:10 pm
Location: AL/Toney

Postby Chris B » Tue Jun 24, 2014 12:14 pm

I have a pair of red headed woodpeckers actively pecking away at my utility poles now. There are a ton of starlings around here. So far everybody seems to be minding their own business. The poor woodpeckers started on the wrong pole and had to quit their hole twice when they ran into a thru bolt holding on one of the electrical company gizmos. They gave up on that pole and have started on another. Too bad too cause their first pole would be better for starling shooting from my porch.
2014 8 gourds, 3 pairs nested. Ended w/ 24 total
2015 24 gourds, 22 nests. Lotsa birds!
2016 24 gourds and good activity.
2017 32 SREH gourds.


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