Power Struggles Are Playing Out at Your Feeder—Here’s What to Look For

By Charles Eldermire and Hugh Powell
March 11, 2015
Not seeing a video? Tap to watch it on YouTube

Birds are doing a lot more than just feeding when they visit your bird feeder. They are coming and going and interacting with each other in a well-established social pecking order. At first it looks like just a flurry of activity—but watch closely and you’ll start to see the daily struggle of dominance playing out in your backyard. This slow-motion video walks you through one example to show you what to look for.

At your feeder, watch for when one bird changes its posture in the presence of another, or how some birds fly away altogether. Here’s a quick primer on three common dominance-related behaviors you might see. [Note: The videos in this post have been slowed down to one-half or one-quarter speed—things will happen a lot faster at your home feeders.]

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Displacement. One of the most common and easiest to see behaviors, displacement occurs anytime one bird leaves to get out of the way of another bird. Displacement also plays out when one bird waits nearby for another bird to finish eating before flying over to a feeder. Within the same species, generally speaking, males tend to dominate females and older birds dominate younger ones. Feeder hierarchies can also involve birds of several species, with the larger species usually winning out over the smaller. In this example, a female Northern Cardinal lets a couple of White-throated Sparrows know when they’ve gotten a little too close to “her” sunflower seeds.

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Threat Displays. Sometimes a dominant bird doesn’t need to displace a subordinate to exert influence. Watch for specialized threat displays designed to convey aggressive intent, such as the chickadee’s bill-up display in which he tilts his bill straight up. A dominant White-breasted Nuthatch performs a wing-spread display in which he sways side-to-side in the direction of the subordinate bird.

Appeasement. Dominant birds aren’t the only ones that signal their intent through behavior. Subordinate birds make appeasement displays that are the opposite of threat displays. Often, subordinates de-emphasize their size by showing a sleeker, smaller posture that seems to shy away from interaction. Watch for birds that deliberately lean or look away from a newly arrived bird, often while crouching or folding their wings in. When the dominant bird leaves, you may see the subordinate bird resume its normal posture.

Not seeing a video? Tap to watch it on YouTube.

Watch the posturing as these three Black-capped Chickadees work out their positions at the feeder. There’s some squabbling at the beginning, but notice how one chickadee ends up getting pushed to the windy, snowy side of the feeder and leans or edges away from further interactions. The two chickadees on the sheltered side seem to tolerate each other well and may be mates. (We also love the curious Northern Cardinal who seems to be observing the interactions almost as closely as a behavioral scientist would.)

Not seeing a video? Tap to watch it on YouTube.

Does Dominance Matter? When a dominant nuthatch occupies a feeder and forces the others to wait until he’s done eating, it’s more than just birdy bullying—it can be life and death. Research has shown that dominant birds forage in safer spots and at safer hours of the day (when there’s less predation). Accordingly, they get eaten by predators less frequently, are able to maintain a better body condition throughout the lean winter months, and have higher survivorship.

This last video helps illustrate another fact of biology: rules are rarely cast in stone, and birds often surprise you. Here, a Tufted Titmouse pushes a Black-capped Chickadee away from the favored side of the feeder—until a new arrival sends both birds packing.

Avian Sociability Index

You may have noticed that some birds at your feeder are more pugnacious than others. Some species seem to have different temperaments and regularly behave in either aggressive or submissive manners. Here are three examples:

  • RBNuthatch300-PhilFeisty and Ready to Fight. Red-breasted Nuthatches are notoriously aggressive. While they’re about the same size as chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches will completely dominate chickadees whenever they get the chance.
  • CWren300-MikePSocially Unaware. Carolina Wrens appear to be utterly oblivious to other birds while camping out at a peanut feeder. They don’t move until they’re good and ready… unless a Blue Jay comes along.
  • CWaxwing300-KirchenHappy Campers. If you’re looking for some good examples of avian dominance, don’t watch Cedar Waxwings. Entire flocks of 30-plus waxwings appear to get along swimmingly while feasting on the fruits of a crabapple tree.

Resources for bringing birds into your backyard:

Images via Birdshare: Red-breasted Nuthatch by JanetandPhil, Carolina Wren by Mike P, Cedar Waxwings by Roger P. Kirchen.

Comments

  • Grace

    We have so many species of birds at our feeders here in northern Georgia. What I find so funny is that the tiny Chipper sparrows seem to rule the roost. They never move even when the big BlueJays come along.

  • bruce porter

    Interesting info on competition at feeders, but no where can I find the video it refers to. Where is it?

    Tks
    bp

  • Bea Mayes

    Thanks for you power struggles video.

  • Hugh

    Hi Bruce – The videos are embedded directly in the blog post. If you can’t see them, then possibly you are using an older Internet browser that doesn’t have the necessary plugins installed, or you may have your browser set to not load videos automatically. You could try using a different Internet browser to load this page. If that doesn’t work, you can see the main video from this post at this link on YouTube: http://youtu.be/42zDB635nu4 Good luck! – Hugh

  • lang stevenson

    The feeder pecking order video is fascinating. More information of this kindabout bird behavior would be welcome. Please make to video easier to find. If it were easily done, I would forward it to friends. We have been feeding birds here in Marin County, California for 18 years. This winter our yard ha often been taken over by Acorn Woodpeckers who can utterly dominate the seed feeders. They are comical. An Acorn Woodpecker can arrive on a branch above a feeder, and giving the “Rack-up” call, it will bow several times before descending to the feeder. Careful obsevation allows us to separate males from females.

  • lang stevenson

    Sorry about the typos in my earlier post. While I was writing, three raucous Acorn Woodpeckers arrived in the branches above the feeders. One just hopped on scattering the Lesser Golfinches and a Dark-eyed Junco . California and Spotted Towhees on the ground under the feeder do not seem to be disturbed. We have had a welcome invasion of Varied Thrushes this winter. While they are not interested in the feeders they often join the towhees and sparrows on the ground.

  • Linda R Guthrie

    Am trying to watch the video of bird dominance at feeders. My computer is an Android. Don’t know about a brouser on this. Having no luck even with provided link.Am I out of luck?

  • T. Clark

    Could it be that you’re trying to read to much into the chicadees’ behaviors? From observing the ones at my feeders and the ones in your videos, it seems to me that it’s pretty random feeding behavior – when one comes in, it temporarily displaces some of the ones there until they find another spot. hen it’s cold and snowy, I think they just try to grab what they can. I’m no expert, but I think you may be drawing conclusions that aren’t necessarily correct.

  • Gwen Reese

    Have a red headed male woodpecker that will swoop in and send everyone running amuck on my work feeders – always announces himself so I can just hear him out the window to watch.

  • Julie Preston

    The interaction are great to watch, have been feeding for many years here in the woods of Pa and found your photos so interesting. Answered a lot of behavior that has puzzled me

  • Joe J

    These are great videos. I should take some videos of my feeders. There is always lots of action and there is plenty of food for everyone. Except the grackles and red wing blackbirds who get the boot.

  • Betty Shannon

    Great videos! At my feeders Acorn Woodpeckers are the dominant birds. They will work in pairs to dislodge even the occasional Band-tailed Pigeon that dares to attempt to eat at their trough.

  • Beth

    I Saw my first black capped chickadee yesterday in my yard in ft Myers fl

  • Bart Rea

    Here in central Wyoming the black-capped chickadees and occasional mountain chickadees don’t seem to care who else is at the sinflower tube feeders. They zip in and out so fast that any other bids don’t seem to have time to react.

    Dark-eyed juncos of the various forms seem to be the most agressive of the common winter species, even driving off the red-breasted nuthatches.

    And “hi” to Lang Stevenson.

  • Ed Mucha

    We have a 4 hole suet log hanging at new house for 3 years. We get, and observe a pecking order among Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy WPs, Red-Breasted WPs, just lately a female Flicker, Jays, Titmice, Black Cap Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, Sparrows, Nuthatches, Cardinals. Just in past 10 days we have gotten a pair of Mockingbirds who lived on opposite side of the house, in Pear trees, who have taken to attacking every bird which shows up at the log, even Red-Breasted WPs. Totally dominant, in the extreme of aggressiveness. Any ideas on how to curb as all the rest of the visitors have given up so much relatively civil, un-interrupted pleasure, until now!

  • Betsy Atkins

    I too cannot access the video. I could get to the one of chickadees via the link from Hugh but not any of the others.

  • Abbie Taylor

    I enjoyed reading your piece on the social order and behavior at the bird feeders. Next to the flashy colors I admit to liking that the best. I have noted that the Carolina chickadees at my feeders here in N Georgia are the bravest of the birds and will come up to the feeders while I am still there whereas the Tufted Titmouse will sit in the trees and wait until I am gone. At my feeders the Titmouse and the Chickadee will feed freely among each other, but perhaps that is because I have several feeders available so it is less competitive. I swear the chickadees are signalling the Titmouse with an “all clear” signal of some sort because they show after the chickadee and eat side by side.
    The most interesting thing I have noted so far this year is the near absence of cardinals at my feeders. Then I realized that a few scores of sparrows have migrated in this year and taken up camp in the area. They will swarm the feeders. The sparrows are small, but seem to be organized like a school of fish. Perhaps the cardinals are threatened. So I put up other feeders throughout my yard in hopes of supporting the cardinals. I will see a few cardinals elsewhere in the yard, but not at my primary feeders anymore. At first the Titmouse and Chickadees also seemed threatened, but now they will “direct” the sparrow off or eat beside them.
    Please share more articles like this.

  • Carolyn

    Excellent and informative post with great video clips to demonstrate each of the behaviors. Thank you! Now please more, more, more!

  • pat

    what about tricky dominance? at my feeder, a blue jay regularly sits on a nearby fence, and if he/she can’t intimidate smaller birds, will give a red-shouldered hawk imitation (a very good one, too) to drive them away from the feeder, where he/she proceeds to gorge. unfortunately for him/her, now most of the smaller birds aren’t so ready to fly away at the call – ?the bird who cried hawk?

  • Kent

    The chickadees at my feeder demonstrate a clear social hierarchy. In the winter they come to the small tree near my feeder (right outside my office window) as a group and then fly to the feeder one at a time to grab a seed, which they take back to the tree to open. The larger more dominant ones feed at will; if they fly back to the feeder for another seed when a smaller less dominant one is there, the smaller bird will fly back to the tree empty handed and wait for another opportunity. I do see squabbling at the feeder in the fall, which I believe is when chickadees are flocking up for the winter and establishing their hierarchy. If you have the opportunity to observe chickadees up close long enough, I believe you will find it easy to identify individuals and the hierarchy reflected in their behavior will become more obvious.

  • Teri

    I’m not able to see the videos embedded in the blog either. I just updated iOS yesterday. YouTube is working. I’m using an iPad.

  • James K McMahon

    Robins are real bullies to bluebirds or at least this one winter guest robin at my feeder. The robin watches the feeder, guards the feeder and will not let the blue birds stay in the yard. What’s up with this behavior? I see they both love currants. It think it’s pure greed. But other currant eaters are not as threatened as the bluebirds. Is it color prejudiced?

  • Anna Newton

    great footage! thanks for posting. As I watched the video of the cardinal watching the dueling chickadees, I wondered if he was really watching the chickadees in hopes of catching any seeds that fell out of the feeder. Sometimes cardinals have trouble getting past the mesh squirrel guard like that tube had.

  • John Burridge

    Does my resident Northern Cardinal have a sense of invasive species?

    When I scatter seeds along my porch rail to form a long buffet, Big Red seems to keep himself busy between seeds running off the House Sparrows, but will tolerate Chickadees and Juncos grabbing seeds almost from between the Cardinal’s toes.

  • Laurel

    Where in Ft. Myers, FL are you located, Beth, for a Black-Capped Chickadee to visit your feeder? I am jealous! As for bird hierarchy, I figured that out a long time ago. Our visiting Painted Buntings are very skittish but will feed with Northern Cardinals. Males and females of either will feed together. They are so cordial! Ground Doves will feed with the Cardinals, too. The American Goldfinches are very fickle. They come and go and are skittish like the Painted Buntings. Unfortunately, when the Grackles show up, everyone else bolts. But then I LOVE when the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers swoop in and don’t put up with the marauding Grackles.

  • Cynthia Ricketson

    Is there any way to get birds to gang up on the squirrels who are stealing their birdseed? Sometimes they do go after puppies on an outdoor chain.

  • Really enjoyed this lesson!

    I’ve seen all kinds of behavior at my feeders as far as dominance and social order are concerned. One thing I’ve noted is there are just some birds that are more aggressive (starlings, house sparrows good examples) and they generally get their way which is why they’ve survived as well by usurping other species’ feeding and breeding grounds.

  • Barbara Hibberd

    When my dad was alive, he fed birds on his window air conditioner in the window. One year, a male roufous sided towhee showed up for about a week and completely took over our yard. He was “boss bird” over even the blue jays.

  • Priscilla Ridgell

    Can’t see the videos (hughesnet plus kindled) but love reading the observations and comments.

  • I have been completely dominated by cardinals, all seasons. Like them, but other birds aren’t coming. Have several feeders, but all used by 10 male and female cardinals

  • Judy

    I always enjoy watching the birds working out their differences. I have 3 feeders, so they have options if they get kicked off one of them. I had a small group of Starlings that started coming back in February, and I had one Northern Flicker who would actually *pull* their legs off the feeder! Unfortunately, I never got video of this. I have occasionally seen smaller birds driving off larger birds. But not long after the Starlings showed up, two Sharp-shinned Hawks moved in, and it completely changed the behavior of the feeder birds. They used come in 4 or 5 waves throughout the day, with two long feedings in the morning and late afternoon. But after the hawks showed up, the smaller birds didn’t come as often, and they didn’t stay long. In 3 days, I saw the Sharpies take a White-throated Sparrow and two Starlings. They got a male Cardinal, too. The hawks seem to have moved on, because the birds are back to their old selves.

  • Bonnie Kreiser

    How right about the woodpeckers. We have shy Downy’s, even shyer Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, a few ant-loving Flickers, and the star of our show, the Red-Bellied woodpeckers here in Lebanon, PA. Occasionally Starlings mob our bird feeder. Our female Red-Bellied woodpecker whom we call “Big Red,” will have none of this. They mob her at their own peril, and she with open mouth, goes after them with her beak. They leave very quickly. No one messes with “Big Red!”

  • Gordon S

    Here in northern PA there is another significant faction at the feeder–the finches. Whereas everyone else is transient at the feeder, grabbing their seed and flying off to eat elsewhere, the goldfinches (and occasional house or purple) take up residence at one of the ports (we have a 4-holer) and just camp there–clogging up the works for the other birds. Sometimes finches even seem to be hunting for the best seeds, throwing the less desirable ones over their shoulders, which has the secondary effect of feeding birds on the ground below the feeder. The dominant birds at our feeder are the red bellies, followed by the nuthatches, the titmouses, the goldfinches, and finally the chickadees. The dynamic on the ground is even more interesting though. The deer and the turkeys reign most of the time, with only occasional confrontations, but yesterday I saw a feeding squirrel ignore a first-year deer that was actually pawing at it with its hoof! The squirrel finally pawed back and the deer went running. The juncos only feed on the ground, and they wait until the deer and turkeys leave, but can coexist with a few squirrels, but not a dozen, as sometimes happens. It does help pass the time in winter!

  • Gordon S

    In at least 5 years of sitting working at my table by the window overlooking the feeding area (I shovel the snow and spread sunflower seeds in addition to a hanging feeder), I’ve seen many hawks, and even a few unsuccessful swoops, but I’ve never seen them catch anything, even mourning doves, which I would think would be the easiest prey. Maybe it’s the fact that there is a large pine branch about 8-12 feet overhead. Anyway, I’ve seen hawks sit 30 feet above the feeding area for an hour or more while everyone (squirrels and birds) just ignored them. I guess my hawks are either less competent hunters, my birds less watchful than they should be, or the pine branch interferes with the most effective line of attack.

  • Marianne

    I cannot watch this chickadee clip without commenting on the type of stand/pole the feeders are hanging from. I had a stand just like this about 8 years ago. One day there was a sparrow caught in the stand where the two horizontal hooks come together on the pole. The bird’s tiny leg slipped down into the narrow crack and it got stuck. I don’t know how long it was there when I saw it flailing about. I lifted it out and it flew off, by my guess is that the bird did not live long after. I got rid of mine immediately. This design is a hazard and perhaps the Cornell Lab would spread the word. I see them for sale everywhere. Thank you.

  • Mike

    So true about the Carolina Wren being oblivious to other birds on the feeder. Meanwhile the nuthatch, chickadee and titmouse touch down at the feeder just long enough to grab a seed/nut and fly back to a near branch, eat and await its chance to return. When the house finches arrive usually in pairs they stay perched at the feeder until full or chased by resident downy, red-bellied or hairy woodpeckers. (The feeder is very active-40oz to 50oz sunflower/nut mix). daily.)

  • Patricia Norris

    The videos didn’t download on my IPad.

  • I’m actually a little bummed right now because I’ve had to take down all but my upside-down finch, squirrel proof peanut and upside-down suet feeders due to house finch eye disease. Out of nowhere, I saw four house finches on my sunflower feeder and three of them were sick. Took it down within minutes.I DO look at them EVERY day too! I’m washing and sterilizing those I’ve taken down waiting for when this issue passes.

  • I had a similar experience with a house finch and one of those big cages. It too got its foot caught but I saw it luckily as it was happening and was able to free it without harm. I know the trauma can kill them too but I felt blessed to see it happening. Of course, I took it down and have not put it back up since.

  • I have observed goldfinches hogging my feeders here in western no. carolina. I have to shoo them away occasionally by window rapping to give my other birds a feed. Even the Redbelly doesn’t like the overcrowding.

  • I have had hawks zinging thru all the branches in my back yard for years, catching mostly doves.

  • Scott

    I have never seen a robin at a feeder. Actually wondered why they won’t go to them.
    But you say they come to yours?

  • John Hull

    Videos not loading on iPad mini also.

  • I’m 73, and I have never seen a robin at a feeder either. What part of the country are you from?

  • Videos won’t load on my kindle hd either.

  • John Burridge

    Well, Priscilla, I’ve got ten years on you and I haven’t either, at least not at my regular seed feeders.

    Although they will grab an occasional berry, robins are basically carnivores not interested in seeds. Try some bugs or worms. When I set out a spread of night crawlers from the local bait shop the robins and their mockingbird buddies are all over them like a cheap suit.

    BTW, we’re still a long way from the first 2015 robin here in Rhode Island. We have not had a day with overnight lows above freezing since mid-January and none is in the forecast. (3/18)

  • John Burridge

    Bah, all this new junk. Microsoft and the others haven’t produced anything really worthwhile in years since they left the USA and went to Communist China. I can see the videos just fine with good old obsolete Windows XP on the “good” computer made here and 98 Second Edition on the even older PC one in the back room.

  • Thank you for a most interesting and relevant blog post about bird power struggles at feeders. On January 17th here in eastern West Virginia, I witnessed a Carolina Wren chasing a female Downy Woodpecker from one of my suet feeders and managed to get a photo of the Downy flying away. The photo is the fifth one down on the following blog post: Winter Woodpeckers and What is a First-Year Bird?

  • Ed, I have been dealing with a pair of territorial Mockingbirds here in eastern West Virginia for months. I hung out a couple of suet feeders again last October (I do not have them up in the summer). A pair of Mockingbirds began guarding them and chasing other birds from them. So I ended up hanging three additional suet feeders from two other trees around the property. The Mockingbirds still try to guard all of the trees, but it is difficult for them to do so all the time. They have chosen the first tree as THEIR tree and guard that one the most ferociously. I definitely do not have a good answer for preventing the Mockingbirds from chasing the other birds away except that the hanging of additional feeders on other trees seems to keep the Mockers so busy that it is impossible for them to do so during all hours of the day. Here is my latest blog post about the Mockingbirds, where you will read that I eventually actually ended up becoming FRIENDS with them! How the Mockingbirds enticed me into giving them their own feeder!

  • So interesting, John, about a Robin coming to your feeder! But it makes sense, based on what I’ve read, that Robins eat fruit during the winter. Your idea of setting out currants in your feeder is wonderful. It’s a shame the Robin chases the Bluebirds away, though. I’ve heard that some people are successful in getting Bluebirds to come to feeders, but I have never had that kind of luck. On the other hand, I have never tried live meal worms, which Bluebirds are said to love (of course, Robins would like those, too!).

  • Audrey Muenz

    I put up a new feeder with a “log” of nuts, fruit, and dried meal worms, which has attracted a very aggressive robin. The robin chases away everything except the largest woodpeckers, flickers and blue jays. I have never seen a robin at my feeders before but this one has claimed the “log” feeder for sure.

  • Jeremy Bock

    Thats interesting Barta…what you said about the Dark Eyed Juncos. I live in NC and during the winter months I dont see any of those issues. However…and I think this plays some part. I live on a 3rd floor apartment and my feeders are on the back porch. I think the reason they may not be aggressive is bc its a new concept for them feeding that high and on the ground. BC they WILL not use the feeders. Lucily I have so many feeders out they get plenty of seed and what not…but I think maybe just bc of the situation they mind there manners due to the fact that the other birds are more comfortable up there. Maybe idk, just speculation. I will tell you one thing for sure tho…there are 3 birds that just kick a**. My jays, red bellied woodpecker and nothern flicker. I mean no one and I mean no one contest these guys. Also…my blue birds are VERY aggressive. I swear on my grandpas grave they even scare the squirrells away. Im not lying…there like a mofia…just straight bullies. You know I think the problem is I just feed them so well with meal worms and all…I think there all just fit, big and ready to go you know. Theres not much sharing really with them when they want to eat…the only bird that moves them out of the way from the meal worm feeder is the carolina wren…and ONLY if its like one on there, he wont mess with anymore than that. And yea…the whole nuthatch being aggressive thing…yea not so much, they will literally sit and wait for minutes for them guys to leave. Its crazy lol

  • Jeremy Bock

    See and thats so crazy Adele and Ed…my mockingbirds dont cause trouble…I live in NC and like I was telling another person on here my problem is my bluebirds (sometimes). I mean they are very, very aggressive. There like a mafia, thats the best way to describe them. I dont know if its because I regularly feed the live meal worms and with all the other balanced diet they get they are just like blue birds on steroids or what. I mean they let other birds eat…but when they want to eat its like no one messes with them. I really dont mind tho bc I have enough different types of feeders and food it balances things out no matter how aggressive a bird is but still there definitley dominate as a group for sure.

  • Jeremy Bock

    Adele I got one word for ya mealworms. I have a pole system…Wild Birds Unlimited carrys great pole systems. Buy the little 4*4*4 cup thing. It has nice little drain holes too for water to escape. But as for the robins I have robins at my feeders. They only eat the suet tho…and they have to have somewhere to stand…so like a cylinder style feeder. OR a peanut feeder with Jim’s Birdacious Bird Food nuggets works great! There like little suet nuggets you can fill it up in. A lot of the peanut trays you can atatch a large plastic circle platform at the bottom and it gives different birds a opportunity to eat on a non traditional style feeder not meant for them. I’v tried the C&S hot pepper suet nuggets…you see it around everywhere. I tried and tried but none of the birds really liked it. I took another friends advice on the Jim’s birdacious food and omg…instatnly they loved it. Dont ask me why…I have no clue the difference. And heres another weird one…the C&S hot pepper log that I put on my cylinder style feeder everyone loves…made by the same company as the hot pepper suet nuggets I mentioned earlier. You would think that the birds would like the hot pepper nuggets like the hot pepper log…wrong. Dont ask me why, just thing I have learned though a lot of trial and error. There like little suet nuggets you can fill it up in them. A lot of the peanut trays you can atatch a large plastic circle platform at the bottom and it gives different birds a opportunity to eat on a non traditional style feeder. Also the hot peeper keeps squirrels away (well is suppose to, it does with mine) so the Jim’s food isnt hot, however Coles wild bird food makes a hot sauce you can use…just dump the sauce into a squirt bottle, coat the food once its in the peanut feeder and you will be good to go not dealing with squirrels. Hope this helps guys.

  • Jeremy Bock

    Try offering another suet feeder…he cant guard 2 at one time.

  • Jeremy Bock

    Yes Cynthia there is a way…lots of dedication and loyality to your birds via feeding them and providing them the things they need. First of all you need to switch to “hot foods” it does not hurt the birds bc birds cannot taste hot foods and squirrels can. Or try all of the anti squirrel feeders but there expensive and they take away from the decortavie feeders that look nice. They just look ugly and stuff hanging up you know. Try using Coles birds foods…there number one when it comes to this stuff. Use there sunflower hearts hot meats…its amazing…a little pricey but works. You have to have a good set up and the birds will intimidate the squrrels to stay away from the feeers. If you have blue birds use these guys to your advantage…ppl call me crazy but I swear, if you get your bluebirds going they are like a mafia…feed them meal worms on a semi regualar basis and they will be loyal to you and help you out. See the trick is to offer a wide range of foods…this keeps the bird count on your feeders busy and high therefore I belive keeping the squirrels away. Try the hot foods first and with lots of time and dedication your birds will protect you. Birds are smart…yes they see you as just a food source however they want that food…but they want food that is high quality and good for them. DONT USE CHEAP STUFF! :) Best of luck Cynthia, let me know if you try that stuff and if it works. Im telling your squirrels hate hot food! Well mine do…them suckers stay far far away. I see them all the time but NEVER do they even get on my porch…there everywhere else but MY porch :). Where they belong.

  • Jeremy Bock

    YES Abbie, my Chickadees and titmouse do the exact same thing…theres another combo that does the same thing…its the nuthatch and someone else…I cant think of it at the moment. But yea anyways mine do the same thing, so no your not crazy lol. Yea with the Cardinals that makes sense. Cardinals are wimps. But thats weird tho because my cardinals go to bed very late. Like when its summer time most birds stop eating around o I’d say 7:00 at the latest and the cardinals will eat until 8:30. I even have to turn on the porch light lol. The ruby throated hummingbirds are the same way. Do you have a platform feeder like you can hang or put on a pole. Put already shelled peanuts in it…sparrows arent big peanut fans but cardinals eat them. Plus like you said…to make EVERYONE happy including aggressive birds you basically just have to have a lot of feeders to even out the chaos. My set up is like this…the doves always use to get on the platform feeder and were being hoggy, so I stop using the sunflower hearts (preshelled) and put preshelled peanuts in the platform feeder. Then I have 2 tube feeders that I put sunflower hearts in…except I added a large plastic circle tray at the bottom. So now the doves dont like peanuts and they stand on and eat of the tray all the time. However I left one tube feeder without a tray for the finches and what not. Then I have one thistle sock. I did the sock and not the thistle type tube feeder because the boring house finch cant cling to the sock only gold finches or pine siskin. And I have a cylinder feeder style I put a suet log onto. And last I have a peanut wire mesh feeder with suet nuggets that also has a tray at the bottom of it. This provides birds like doves that cannot “cling” and opportunity to eat that as well. So I think maybe you should look at the balance of different seed and your overall set up and go from there…you just have to think outside the box. Think like a bird Abbie, good luck :)

  • Jeremy Bock

    Do you only have 1 feeder? Im assuming its a hopper or platform feeder. I mean yea if you only have one feeder he’s gonna do that for sure. Yea I can believe the hawk thing…I mean some jays get big…and who knows the hawk may just be able to get food easier than risking injury battling with him or w/e the case may be. If you only have one feeder your gonna need more…if the blues are dominating you kind of have a real problem. You know what I would do…do this. Take down the feeder. Put up a tube feeder and some sort of suet feeder…leave the feeder he was on out for a while. Let other birds come to these new feeders and get well established (id say like a month and a half) then reintroduce the old feeder. This way it will let new birds become established and if anything the jay will be not so much be intimidated (blues arent scared of anything) but they will at least work with the others. Blue Jays are just super intelligent birds, they know how big they are and that everyone is scared of them.

  • Jeremy Bock

    Hey Priscilla…okay so are they all platform feeders? Bc I mean Cardinals cant get onto tube feeders unless there ones specially designed for bigger birds. Thats weird here in NC are Cardinals are weak and get pushed around easily. Its weird tho…I think in different parts of the country birds of the same species have different temperments.

  • Hi Jeremy, I am in NC too, far western piece. my feeders are a large mesh and 2 tube feeders. Maybe I have developed mutant ninja cardinals because they definately rule the roost!

  • I have jays only during nesting season. If they start hogging the feeders, I rap on the windows, after letting them feed a bit. They are very smart birds, and they get the message right away…if only kids were as easy!

  • Thanks,John,about the worms. I can handle the mealworms, but nightcrawlers give me the willies. Used to live in RI…you have a while to go before it really warms up.

  • ADELE AND JEREMY..lived in SC and had nuthatches always. Moved to NC and, for first time, saw the large nuthatches. Was amazed to see it hang upside down and spread its wings like a bat to chase other birds away…has. become one of my favorites.

  • John Burridge

    My resident (year-round) male cardinal is no wimp — he busies himself running off the invasive English sparrows (aka house sparrows) while tolerating juncos, chickadees, and nuthatches right up close.

  • Jeremy Bock

    Yea Priscilla those big nuthatches are too cool for school. Very neat looking. John I totally believe you….I really just think birds temperament varies based on a number of things I guess…its really weird. My cardinals are cool, they are relaxed and chill. Honestly all of my birds are cool with each other lol. The only one that sort of is a butt hole is the red headed woodpeckers I have…but even there not too bad.

  • Jeremy Bock

    Priscilla Im in Raleigh…can you at any way possible tell me the different types of birds you have. I know yall have ones we dont have at this part of the state. Thanks I’d really appericate it. You can email me thru Jeremy_bock@hotmail.com if that is easier. I dont get notifications on here when ppl make new post :(

  • Beverly Blanchard

    We’ve had a resident Robin all winter that flys up to our platform feeder and chases away any bird that happens to light on the platform. This happened a lot when we had snow on the ground. Now he seems to be content on the ground since the snow is gone although he will not allow any other birds in his “space”. I’ve never in all my years watching my backyard birds seen a Robin on a feeder.

  • Isabelle Devost

    Really interesting, but I am not sure about the sociability index… I am studying dominance hierarchies for my thesis, and Red-breasted nuthatches are usually displaced by Black-capped chickadees, so there is really not a “complete domination”! However chickadees will always be chased away by White-breasted nuthatches, understandable as this species is quite bigger.

  • Lindsey

    There have been plenty of studies done on Black-capped Chickadees and dominance hierarchies. Researchers color band them so you can tell each individual apart and then keep track of behaviors like the aggressive and subordinate ones shown in the videos. Clear patterns have been shown time and again that there are definite hierarchies in Chickadee subpopulations. So these aren’t just some quick conclusions/assumptions drawn from a few videos, but years of detailed research using the scientific method.

  • Karen Ognan

    I have 2 feeders and a suet cage. While I see this dominance with the bigger birds, it is really the anna’s hummingbirds who rule the roost. They buzz humans on the deck, and approach flickers at the suet, hovering in front of them, warning them to stay away…

  • Yvette

    I had a robin today eating all the peanuts in two locations in my yard today. That’s the first time I’ve seen a robin use any of my offerings other than the water.

  • many people are reporting the same robin activity. i discovered a crowd of what i determined to be pine siskins completely dominating my feeder. i read that this activity is due to the extreme cold and lack of natural nut crops in their normal areas…the poor things have been starving. i am wondering what fewer species may show up this spring.

  • Ditto ! These guys are so adept as proving life is truly for the birds .
    A very enjoyable video indeed . Thank You Cornell .

  • Judith

    The bully bird and nemesis at my feeders here in NC is the mockingbird. Whenever I spot him/her I run him/her off, ’cause he will perch om the feeder and run off anything that approaches. It did my heart good one day when a red-belly woodpecker was at the platform feeder. Mocker flew in and landed on the same feeder. The woodpecker looked up, gave the mocker the “stink-eye” and resumed eating. Mocker seemed nonplussed, and after a heartbeat or two, flew away.

    [This comment has been migrated from an earlier post version by Cornell Lab staff.]

  • pris ridgell

    i have been inundated with about 25 pine siskins, an irruption from the north. i was told to let them feed as they were starving and would leave to return to breeding grounds up north. it’s april 30, and they are still here driving my usual birds nuts. i was told they might stay and breed here. has anyone else had any irruptions of any kind?

    [This comment has been migrated from an earlier post version by Cornell Lab staff.]

  • nancy seelig

    I live in Northern New Jersey and have enjoyed the black-capped chickadees for many years at my feeders. I became so fond of them and looked forward each morning to see them waiting in the back yard near my feeder as soon as I came near to fill it. They would call out and others would arrive. They were so tame sometimes landing on my hand quickly. But now, this spring no chickadees!!! I am very upset and wonder if it has anything to do with the two large hemlocks I sadly had to cut down in front of my house, last fall. Perhaps they used them for cover and fed on the aphids,which were on the old and dying trees. I can’t figure out any other reasons for their disappearance???

    [This comment has been migrated from an earlier post version by Cornell Lab staff.]

  • pris ridgell

    i’m so sorry about your chickadees. I, too, dote on them. the tree removal may have disturbed them. I had an adjustment time whe I also lost 2 trees, but all the birds eventually returned. I noticed fewer chickadees this spring and wondered if the brutal winter here killed some. I am putting up several more birdhouses (they have used them) and am hanging more cage type feeders so my small birds can feed in peace…..I have very grabby cardinals. I hope you will see a return soon.

    [This comment has been migrated from an earlier post version by Cornell Lab staff.]

  • pris ridgell

    Abbie, I think your cardinals have all congregated at my feeders here in NC. they won’t let the others feed, and I literally have to bang on the window several times a day to get rid of them. there must be 12 of them. I am going to have to trap some and relocate them….have never had such a problem before

    [This comment has been migrated from an earlier post version by Cornell Lab staff.]

  • nancy

    Thank you for your suggestions. I bought a new feeder for chickadees and 2 new birdhouses and planted a new tree. I saw a chickadee at the new feeder already!

    [This comment has been migrated from an earlier post version by Cornell Lab staff.]

  • pris ridgell

    I,too,have noticed fewer chickadees…first this spring…and noticed a reduction in babies this year. there is contention over a birdbox by the chickadees and bluebirds,and the chickadees always lose. am placing more boxes around the property in hopes for a better outcome next year

    [This comment has been migrated from an earlier post version by Cornell Lab staff.]

  • catdance

    There’s a large family of house finches that bully the goldfinches and juncos at my sunflower seed feeder. It goes on all the time. I also have a goldfinch feeder with nyger and a suet cake out. They get picked on some but they all prefer the one feeder. I don’t know what else to do.

  • Dan Matei

    Let’s help the wild birds get with ease over winter..

  • Sonia Alvarez

    I don’t use a feeder. I just throw some granola, bread, cake, crushed corn chips/nuts, left over cereal etc on the ground. The food is dispersed and it’s harder for the bullies to dominate. I have a very nasty female cardinal where I live, she prevents another female cardinal from eating at all. She chases her relentlessly. We might not be the worst species after all.

  • Janet

    This is a description of two surprising displacements that
    occurred in our yard in the Winter of 2015, an unusually cold winter with an
    abundance of snow and ice. One occurred
    between a song sparrow and a mourning dove.
    The other occurred between a mourning dove and a squirrel. Both happened on the same feeder, which is round,
    wrought iron, hanging planter with a coconut liner that I converted to a feeder
    one winter after the plants died. Many
    birds, especially the song sparrows and mourning doves love to eat seeds in the
    planter possibly because it is round and nest-like.

    One
    afternoon a mourning dove was in the feeder eating when a song sparrow hopped
    onto its back and started plucking out feathers near the dove’s neck for short
    time and then hopped into a nearby bush.
    The dove was startled at first but
    did not move from the feeder. So the song sparrow repeated the displacement
    attack. Then shaken dove decided it was
    time to leave and the song sparrow took over the feeder. We were surprised at
    the outcome.

    The second incident also started
    with a mourning dove eating in the same feeder.
    When a squirrel approached to get some seeds, the mourning dove faced
    the squirrel and then puffed itself up and spread its wings out. The squirrel was frightened and ran
    away. The mourning dove continued to eat
    seed. Again we were surprised by the
    outcome.