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9 Most Common Bird Feeder Pests

It’s a never ending battle for many of us… keeping the pests away from our bird feeders.

While many people don’t mind feeding any creatures that happen to find their feeders,  I’d say a majority of us would prefer to stick to just the birds. Many people aren’t comfortable feeling like they are attracting all manner of wildlife, bugs and rodents to their yard.

In this article we’ll go over the main types of pests that are known for raiding bird feeders, why they can be problematic and some tips for keeping them away.

Some are more resilient than others, some are ridiculously persistent.. but there are ways to deter each and every type of pest. Sometimes it’s by offering different types of food or using special kinds of feeders, other times you might have to get really creative. This article will give you an overview, and for each pest we will link to some more in-depth troubleshooting you can do for that particular culprit.

Let’s dive in and look at common bird feeder pests in no particular order, with the first two causing problems at hummingbird feeders.

1. Ants

Ants in a hummingbird feeder | credit: Greg – Flickr CC 2.0

First let’s state why ants are attracted to hummingbird feeders, because they love the sweet nectar. If a sugar source is found, ants will send the word out to the colony and a swarm will soon follow. This won’t necessarily harm the hummingbirds, it will more likely be creepy to you! But, too many ants getting into the nectar can lead to contamination.

So it stands to reason we have to do things to make access to this nectar near impossible for them.

First and foremost, make sure your hummingbird feeder isn’t dripping at all! There is a chance they won’t even know it’s up there hanging from a pole or branch if they don’t encounter sugar droplets on the ground. If you’re sure leaks aren’t the issue, then there are a couple of other deterrents you can get to keep ants away from your hummingbird feeder.

The most highly recommended guard against ants is an “ant moat”. This is a water barrier that is hard for ants to cross. You can purchase one that hangs over the feeder, or buy a hummingbird feeder that already has one built in. Just remember to check it regularly and keep it filled 3/4 of the way full with water.

Learn more about how to keep ants away from hummingbird feeders

2. Bees and wasps

There’s something that bees and wasps have in common with hummingbirds, do you know what it is?

Yes, they both love sugary nectar!

In nature, hummingbirds and bees have no problems sharing nectar from flowers. So bees don’t see a problem with sharing a hummingbird feeder either.

The real problem arises when you suddenly have hundreds of bees swarming your hummingbird feeders, the hummers won’t even approach them when it gets to this level. Not to mention you might even get nervous about getting stung in your yard.

As with ants, it’s important to make sure your feeder isn’t leaking or dripping. You can also purchase bee-guards that fit over the feeding holes, and many feeders come with bee guards when you buy them. However try and stay away from yellow on a feeder as yellow actually attracts bees. Why they decided to make so many bee guards yellow, I have no idea. Look for red or white guards, or use non-toxic paint to cover any yellow.

Learn more about how to keep bees away from hummingbird feeders

3. Other birds

European Starling

Sometimes we want to practice selective feeding. In other words, feeding some birds while leaving out others. There are several types of birds considered “bully birds” that most people don’t want crowding their feeders and pushing around our preferred backyard birds.

It can be tricky to single out specific species of birds that we don’t want hanging around, especially when many of them are the same size as the birds we ARE trying to feed.

Who are the bully birds?

The main culprits are European Starlings, Grackles, and Blackbirds. These birds are large in size, and are known to show up in numbers. They can eat through your seed very quickly and have aggressive personalities that will keep other backyard birds you are trying to feed on the sidelines.

Some other birds that are large in size and may monopolize your feeders are crows, magpies, pigeons and doves. House Sparrows, although small sized, are also considered a pest bird many times because they are not native to the United States and they compete aggressively with native songbirds for nesting spots. They can evict birds like bluebirds and wrens from their nest and kill their young.

Why are these birds problematic?

For one, they can eat a lot of your feeder food. A LOT. A dozen of them will descend on your feeders and before you know it your full feeders and suet cages are nearly empty in just one day. Going through food at this rate is too expensive for most!

They also crowd out your songbirds. They don’t call it a “pecking order” for nothing. The larger birds will often chase off other birds that approach the feeders. Some of the more timid backyard birds won’t even bother to approach if they see a few of those bully birds taking over the place.

Lastly, they can make a mess if they show up in large numbers. Pigeons are certainly known for leaving a lot of their poop behind and flocks that show up can potentially poop-bomb your feeder area. It’s unsightly, and unsanitary.

One of the best methods to cut down on bully birds is to use specific feeders that are hard for them to get into. With the exception of the House Sparrows, most bully birds are larger than songbirds. Therefore weight-activated feeders and caged feeders can keep larger birds from accessing the food. You can also select types of food such as Nyjer seed and Safflower seed that most bully birds do not care for.

Check out our article for 4 specific tips to keep bully birds away from bird feeders.

4. Rats & mice

image: Dun.can | Flickr CC 2.0

Many people don’t even know that rodents can become an issue at bird feeders. But mice and rats get hungry just like all animals, and they love nuts and seeds. They are also good climbers and can squeeze through amazingly small holes.

They can wipe out your seed supply just like a hungry squirrel. They can also carry diseases and leave their droppings in your feeder area or even in the feeder itself (gross) in the case of mice who can crawl inside them. If they think your feeder is a steady source of good food, they will also be more likely to build their dens in your yard or even worse try to get into your house for shelter. Rodents reproduce quickly and you definitely don’t want them taking up residence on your property.

Keeping the ground under the feeders free of spilt seed is a big way to avoid them finding your feeder. Using no-waste seed mixes and seed-catching trays can help with this. Using hot pepper on your seed or spraying the area with peppermint can also be helpful. At the end of the day, a rat or mouse trap might be your best option, we recommend electronic traps.

Did you know using rat/mouse poison can actually be bad for birds? Studies have shown owls and hawks, who’s diet consists heavily of rodents, often are poisoned themselves by ingesting the rodents who have eaten poison but haven’t died yet.

Learn more about the do’s and don’ts of dealing with mice and rats at your bird feeders.

5. Raccoons, Opossums, Skunks

We put these critters in the same general category because they are all about the same size, and while you can see them during the day they do most of their foraging at night. And they all loooove to eat your bird seed!

Raccoons and Opossums are great climbers, so getting up feeder poles or trees to get to feeders is no problem for them. Raccoons have especially dexterous hands and have been known to pull feeders apart. Both these animals can eat a lot of seed if they reach it, and damage your feeders by pulling, chewing, and knocking them to the ground.

Skunks actually are not good climbers, but they will still be attracted to spilt seed on the ground. If they find a good supply under your feeder they will hang around and graze, potentially making your yard a little smelly, and startling you if you run into them. You also don’t want them getting any ideas that your yard is a good spot to build a den. And you definitely don’t want them hanging around and getting into a fight with your dog who will get a face full of spray.

One of the best methods to deter this group of critters is to bring your feeders in at night when they are out looking for food. Another is to use a high feeder pole with a large baffle that will make pole climbing impossible.

Read our full article about keeping raccoons, opossums and skunks out of your bird feeders.

6. Deer

Many of us may enjoy seeing deer in our yards. They can be fun to watch and bring an unexpected glimpse of nature for those in suburban areas. Unfortunately, if they decide your feeder is a good spot for a meal they can become a pest quickly.

They are large animals that eat a lot. They can go through a whole feeders worth of seed quickly, and potentially cause damage to your feeder. Many people may also know that they like to eat all your favorite yard plants. Flowers, buds, shrubs, your garden veggies, you name it.

If they really hang around they can also leave piles of poop and spread ticks, neither of which you likely want in your yard.

The best method to avoid this is to keep the deer from finding your food in the first place. Keep the ground under your feeders clean and free of spilt seed. Then make sure the feeder is hung extra high, 8 feet or more if you can.

Learn more about how to keep deer away from bird feeders.

7. Squirrels

squirrel on bird feeder

Squirrels…. likely the number one bird feeder pest on this list in most people’s eyes. I don’t think any of us hate squirrels, some of us even enjoy their antics.

But many of us want them out of our bird feeders!

If it was just an occasional snack at a feeder it wouldn’t be a big deal would it? But it’s not a snack, they eat everything. I saw a squirrel at my feeder a few weeks ago for a solid hour after I filled it up just stuffing his face non-stop. The birds just patiently sat on their branches waiting for an opportunity to grab a quick bite.

That is the main problem with squirrels at feeders, they quickly eat all your food while keeping the birds away. And they often will chew through and damage your feeders while doing it.

The best defense against squirrels is a good pole and baffle system. A nice tall pole that keeps the feeders high enough off the ground so squirrels can’t jump up to them, and a large enough baffle on the pole so that squirrels are unable to climb the pole. Placement is also key – place your feeders at least 10 feet away from any surface, such as a deck, that squirrels can leap from.

Visit our series of articles on squirrels to learn all the best tips for keeping them in check:

8. Bears

bear at a bird feeder

The Bears aren’t coming for your birds, but believe it or not they will come for your birds food. When they are hungry seeds, nuts, suet and even hummingbird nectar can make nice little snacks.

One problem with this is clearly your safety and the safety of your family and pets. Nobody wants bears, who are very dangerous when aggressive, to get used to visiting their yard. But the other problem is your supply of food and feeders. As you can imagine a hungry bear can eat a whole feeders worth of seed in no time. And often to get to the seed they will pull feeders off poles and rip them apart.

It can certainly be hard to keep feeders away from these huge animals, which is why one of the top methods is to bring your feeders inside at night. Bears often feel safer foraging closer to people and houses at night.

Making your feeders as inconspicuous as possible is another tactic. Make sure to clean up the ground beneath the feeder since bears will usually see this food first, and hang your feeders from extra tall poles or string them up between two trees.

Learn more about how to keep bears away from bird feeders

9. Cats

Cats are one of the most popular pets in the world. They can be sweet companions and a cherished part of the family. Unfortunately to birds, they are a number one predator. In the United States alone, cats kill about 2.4 billion birds per year. Yes, billon per year.

Needless to say if you love animals and want to enjoy both birds and cats, you might have to take some measure to make sure the can coexist in peace.

Cats are very patient and may sit out in your grass for hours inching closer to the feeders so they can pounce on some unsuspecting bird trying to get a snack for themselves or their young. Their success at your feeder can depend greatly on how close they can get while remaining unseen.

The best method for avoiding cat encounters is to keep your cats indoors. If you feel strongly that isn’t an option for your cat, buy or create a “Catio”. Catios are fully enclosed structures, like a screened in porch for your cat.

If you have trouble with cats that don’t belong to you, perhaps a neighbors cat or a feral, a motion activated sprinkler can be a great tool. Blasting the cats with water won’t hurt them but certainly will scare them!

Learn more in-depth tips to keep cats away from bird feeders