Hummingbirds are one of the most popular birds to feed in your backyard. Not only are they enjoyable to watch, but making their food is inexpensive and easy. However, hummingbirds aren’t the only ones who love to eat sugary nectar. Nectar feeders often attract some unwanted pests such as bees, wasps and ants. In this article we will go over ways to keep ants away from hummingbird feeders.
You can check out our article on keeping bees and wasps away from hummingbird feeders here.
1. Use an Ant Moat or Ant Guard
This is the number one recommended way that is both safe and effective. It works by putting a water barrier between the ant and the feeder holes. They will either give up when they can’t cross the water, or sometimes fall in and drown.
- Built-in moats: some feeders, such as this saucer shaped feeder on Amazon, have moats built-in right in the “donut hole” at the center of the saucer.
- Attachable moats: these look like small cups that usually attach right above your feeder. Attachable moats hang between your pole and the feeder. Here’s an inexpensive but highly rated ant moat on Amazon.
Whichever way you go, they work best when 3/4 full with water. Too full and the ants might be able to glide across to the edge and climb over. Too low and they might be able to crawl out. In the summer you will have to pay extra close attention to making sure these stay full and may have to refill daily.
2. Avoid leaky feeders
The first step is to make sure your feeder isn’t leaking. Even a few drips on the ground can alert ants to the sweet sugar and send them on a mission to find the source. Make sure any feeders that screw together have a good, tight seal. Large tube/bottle feeders that you fill and hang upside down may have more of a tendency to leak than the saucer style feeders.
3. Shade your feeder
Nectar, like other liquids, will expand when heated. This can sometimes happen if the feeder is fully exposed to the sun, especially in very hot climates. The nectar expands and can push droplets out of the feeder holes. This eventually leads to dripping, alerting ants to the food source. By placing the feeder in partial or full shade, it will stay cooler which will help cut down on dripping and slow the growth of bacteria.
If you don’t have a good shady spot you can use a weather baffle to provide a little shade, here’s a great one on Amazon. As an extra bonus this will also provide some protection from rain, and even bird poop if your feeder is hanging from a popular perch!
4. Hang feeders from fishing line
Ants can have a hard time walking on the slippery surface of fishing line. This may not work as a deterrent on its own, but if you have stubborn ants it would be good to combine this with the use of a moat.
5. Use essential oils
Like many creatures, ants have certain smells that they just don’t like. By liberal use of certain essential oils, you may be able to create a non-toxic deterrent. Mint/Peppermint is a scent that seems to keep away many pests from certain bugs to mice and rats. This study has also found that cinnamon can be used to repel ants.
In both cases, you will want a high quality 100% essential oil. In a small spray bottle mix a dozen drops of the essential oil in water. Spray the ground directly surrounding the feeder pole, and the bottom few inches of the pole itself. The stronger / more potent the smell the better so if it’s not working at first, experiment with adding more essential oil to the mix and upping the strength. Remember to reapply periodically and after rain.
6. Diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth is the fossilized remains of diatoms (a single-celled algae). Their cell walls are made of silica. Over the eons they have accumulated and fossilized in sediments, and we can mine the large diatomite deposits. Diatomaceous earth is most commonly sold as a very fine white powder.
It is often used against pest bugs such as ants, cockroaches, fleas, and bed bugs, to name a few. But it’s not a poison. In insects, the particles are so sharp and fine that it is able to penetrate their exoskeleton, and then dry them out by absorbing oils and fats.
For people, pets and birds, it is non-toxic. Some people even put food grade diatomaceous earth (the most purified) ON their pets to rid them of fleas. It can irritate your respiratory tract and eyes though, so take precautions when using it.
Try creating a diatomaceous earth perimeter around the base of your feeder pole. Put a good coating on the ground all around the pole, so that any ants trying to climb up the pole to get to the feeder would have to crawl through it. They will either avoid it, or won’t live long enough to make many return trips. This 5lb bag on Amazon comes with a dusting applicator.
7. Perky Pet Permethrin ant guard
You may have heard of Permethrin before as a tick repellent able to be sprayed on clothes. It is also a very good ant repellent. Perky Pet makes a little hanging bell that contains permethrin that you can hook between the feeder pole and the feeder. I believe the shape is in order to protect the permethrin from rain and keep it dry and potent, but that is just a guess as I couldn’t find an explanation about the product design.
Normally I don’t recommend any pesticides, but permethrin is known to be safe for humans, pets and birds. It is quite toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms as well as beneficial insects such as bees. However we aren’t talking about spraying this around the yard. This ant guard provides a small, very localized application and should be fine as long as you aren’t close to a body of water. A good last resort if the other tactics aren’t working for you.
Methods to avoid
- Vaseline: People online often say to smear the pole with vaseline or vapor rub. True, ants will not want to walk through this. However if a hummingbirds feathers accidentally touch this it will be very hard for them to clean it off. It hinders their ability to fly and use all their feathers properly, which for hummingbirds especially can mean death.
- Filling ant moats with oils: Ant moats should only be filled with water. No cooking oil or other oils. Again this is too close to the feeding area and could get on the birds feathers. Also, these little water filled moats are actually sometimes used by hummingbirds, bees and butterflies to drink out of.
Ants are a necessary part of the environment, and are used as a food source by many birds such as sparrows, wrens and flickers. But we all know they can also be relentless pests when they try and get in your house, eat up your garden or try to take over a hummingbird feeder. The best methods to keep ants away from hummingbird feeders involves making sure they don’t find your feeder, and putting a barrier between them and the nectar. If you use two or even three of these tips together you can put up a strong defense against ants.
Melanie is an environmental scientist, birdwatcher, and amateur photographer. She’s been a birding hobbyist for years and loves feeding and learning about birds of all types. Over the years, Melanie has identified more than 250 bird species, with sightings of the Atlantic Puffin, Hawaiian Goose, and Arctic Tern among her most cherished.