Cottage Q&A: Dealing with problem grackles

A common grackle standing near water By Holly S Cannon/Shutterstock

We arrive at our island cottage in late May and are amazed at the grackles that boldly take up squatting rights. They build large grassy nests, lay eggs, and inhabit most of our rafter openings under our roof, on all sides of the cottage. I’m wondering if stringing rows of fishing line would deter them. My better half has moved many nests each spring with much care to suitable tree cradles. We are elderly now and cannot do this any longer. Any suggestions of workable options would be appreciated.—Val Cabell, Georgian Bay, Ont.

“Fishing line might work, but it would have to be spaced quite close,” says Kerrie Wilcox of Birds Canada. And ideally, the strands of line would be strung horizontally and vertically, with one-inch “holes” at the largest, and pulled taut “so that the wire doesn’t get tangled in the birds’ feathers if they try to get through.” 

Our experts felt netting would be a better choice. Dan Frankian, the owner of Hawkeye Bird and Animal Control, based in Acton, Ont., suggests ¾”-by-¾” polyethylene. “Depending on how much you need to cover, it could only amount to a few hundred bucks, plus some stainless steel staples.” 

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Other workable options? As is often the case with nuisance wildlife, exclusion is probably a better bet than putting your money on any other deterrent. “The list of what could work is almost endless, but the question is, what’s going to work, and for how long,” says Frankian.

As for moving the nests, you should know that the Migratory Birds Convention Act “prohibits people from moving nests of native species while the nest contains live eggs or live young,” says Wilcox. “It’s rare for a bird to continue using a nest that has been moved, even if it’s just a few feet away. It’s seen as some other bird’s nest, even if it’s got their own eggs in it.” Moving the nest material is legal if there are no babies yet. But, as your better half surely knows by now, “people have to be diligent—sometimes going out every day or multiple times a day to remove that material.”  

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All of this info comes with a caveat: it’s possible that what you’re identifying as grackles are actually European starlings. (It’s easy to confuse the two.) “Starlings are known for nesting in and around the nooks and crannies of houses,” says Wilcox. “Grackles tend to nest in trees, mainly conifers.”

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If this is a case of mistaken ID, since starlings are cavity nesters, they might be attracted to nest boxes placed away from the cottage. But that could backfire: you could end up attracting more European starlings to your property, plus give these non-native, common nuisance birds more opportunities to successfully reproduce. “That’s not something we really want to encourage,” says Wilcox.

This article was originally published in the May 2023 issue of Cottage Life.

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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