Photo by Tim Felce (Airwolfhound) - Starling, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27814540
Starlings are a very common bird, especially in the american northeast. Although not harmful to chickens, they tend to carry parasites and can really make a mess in a coop. They will descend on a coop, leave feces everywhere, and eat much of the feed left out for the chickens. Unfortunately, they tend to mass together in murmurations. While beautiful to watch as they fly over an open pasture, they become extremely annoying when they are a panicking mass of feathers trying to escape your coop. In addition, starlings can be quite stupid, especially when trying to find an exit route. Unlike house sparrows and other small birds that will often (although not always) stop and look for a way to get out of a confined space, starlings will fly around and smash themselves into walls and windows, even when there is a large open door for them to fly through. This becomes significantly peskier when there is a whole flock of starlings losing their minds as you try to feed your ladies.
There are a few methods that I’ve tried to keep starlings out of my coop. I can’t say that I’ve been entirely successful, but there are some methods that seem to work well. Here are some tips for keeping starlings out of your coop and away from your flock:
- The first go-to barricade is, of course, the coiled, pointy, metal mass of frustration that is chicken wire. Good news – it doesn’t work. Starlings can duck right through any gaps in the wire, and because they can’t easily fit through the holes in the wire itself, they get stuck inside the coop or outside run. Because chicken wire is so weak for a wire fence, a murmuration of starlings can easily ruin a good fencing job done with chicken wire. In short, don’t even bother with it, unless there is really nothing else.
- After chicken wire, the next step up is wire fencing with stronger gauge wire. You can get different types of this nicer wire fencing, although it is going to be more expensive. If you really don’t want any starlings slipping into your coop, you can find fencing with small holes comparable to chicken wire. With nicer wire fencing, there isn’t as much of an issue with starlings finding a gap somewhere, because this fencing is less likely to droop and is easier to work with. Fencing with larger holes can be used if you don’t mind smaller birds ducking in and out of the coop or if you are tolerant of starlings but don’t want them to get stuck in the coop. Other coverings like cheesecloth (stretched very tightly) may also work.
- A covered feeding container may also help to deter starlings. With a container that covers most of the uneaten food, starlings and other birds can’t access the chickens’ feed. Once there is no food source in your coop, the murmuration might leave to find more plentiful food elsewhere (. . . like your berry bushes, but that’s another article).
- Another option, although it’s not as foolproof, is a cat (that is socialized with chickens) or a dog. The cat will generally catch and eat starlings, hopefully deterring them. The dog is more likely to chase the murmuration away, with the same result.
- Trapping is not a long-term solution unless you intend to go to war and kill all the starlings you catch. Trap and release does not work with these birds. They are migratory and can easily find their way back to their murmuration or join another one in the area. You would have to get on a plane and travel long distances to truly rid yourself of the birds you trapped.
- Sniper shots with a groundhog rifle are also not likely to help the situation.
Hopefully these tips will give you a place to start in keeping your coop starling-free! Murmurations are fun to watch in an open space. Do enjoy these beautiful birds, as you see them around your yard!