How to keep ants out of hummingbird feeder
Want to know how to keep ants out of hummingbird feeders?
Offering up sweet nectar for your hummingbirds will also result in you attracting some unwanted visitors in the form of ants.
And not just one or two ants, but a whole colony looking to please their queen.
The reality is that ants are bad news for your hummingbird feeders.
Ants clog up the feeding ports and contaminate the nectar by getting trapped or drowning.
Hummingbirds don’t eat ants, so really they are just more competition for their food.
Plus more aggressive ant species can attempt to attack hummingbirds at your feeder.
Although an ant attack probably won’t kill a hummingbird, it will stop them from wanting to come back to your feeder.
SO you need a solution for this right?
Well, this guide is going to show you 13 natural ways to keep ants off your hummingbird feeders. Now we don’t want to kill the ant as it will disrupt your garden ecosystem.
Also, I’ll show you 5 methods you should never use to keep ants away from your hummingbird feeder.
Sound good? Then let’s get to it.
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How to Keep Ants Out Of Hummingbird Feeders
1. Ant Moats
The easiest way to keep ants reaching the feeding ports is to use an ant moat.
An ant moat will catch any ants descending down the hanging hook onto your hummingbird feeder.
It’s basically a water-filled barrier between the hanger and the feeding ports.
Boat inverted and saucer-style hummingbird feeders can have ant moats.
There are 3 ways you can get an ant moat on your feeder.
a. Buy Readymade
You can buy a hummingbird feeder with moats already built-in.
Here are some great examples of hummingbird feeders with built-in ant moats.
These are quick and easy as everything you need is all ready to go from when you first use your new feeder.
If you’re just starting out feeding hummingbirds, then this is the best option for you.
b. Buy An additional Hook
Hummingbirds usually develop a feeder preference. That means it may be hard for you to change your existing feeder to new ones.
Buying an ant moat hook is a great way around this issue.
It’s simply an extra hook you add between your feeder and its hanging support.
The only problem with this is that the individual ant moats can be quite pricey at around $7 each. Although you can buy them in bulk for a lot cheaper if you have many hummingbird feeders.
c. Make your own
IF you want to save a bit on money then you can easily make your own ant moats.
Check this DIY ant moat tutorial
2. Use Wire
Ants need to be able to climb down the hangers to reach your hummingbird feeder.
If you have a thick how or chain it’s easy for the ants to navigate their way along this surface.
The simple way to stop this is by making it harder for them to climb their way down.
You can do this by using a very thin wire, ideally fishing wire, to hang your hummingbird feeders.
The ants can’t balance down the wire and will find it difficult to keep their grip.
You’ll find the fishing line works well on its own. You don’t need to add anything sticky or oily to the feeder
3. Regular Maintenance
It’s important to keep your hummingbird feeder regularly maintained.
Weather and age can cause your feeders to start to break.
Regularly check your feeders for any signs of cracks, loose fittings, or broken parts that cause the nectar to leak.
A leaking feeder will give ants easy access to the nectar. Plus your feeder with smell sweeter.
Which, you guessed it… will attract more ants.
IF your feeder is beyond repair then chuck it and get a new feeder with an ant moat.
If one of your feeding ports breaks off cover it with duct tape. This will prevent ants from falling into the larger hole and contaminating the nectar.
4. Clean regularly
Clean feeders are an essential part of backyard birdwatching. This keeps your hummingbird safe from spoiled nectar and diseases spread at feeders.
Hummingbirds are messy eaters and splash sugar water all over the feeder.
This sugar water will attract more ants as they follow the sweet scent trail.
Also, consider the weather when you decide how often to clean your feeder. You may need to consider a daily clean when the weather is windy and causing nectar to spill from the feeding ports.
5. Use the shade
Heat will cause the nectar in your hummingbird feeder to expand and leak out. And that sweet sugary aroma will attract those ants straight to your feeders.
These leaks will continue to happen regardless of how well maintained your feeder is.
The easiest solution to move your feeders into a shaded area of your yard.
But, any area too dark may make it difficult for the hummingbird to find your feeders. Plus a small yard can restrict where you place your feeders.
In that case, you can buy a weather guard for your feeder. This device will keep your feeder shaded from the blazing sun.
Plus these guards are larger than the feeder. This is great for stopping any falling ants from making a lucky landing onto your feeding ports.
6. Place over water
If you have a pond or a water fountain in your yard, then it’s the ideal place to hang your feeder.
This method is basically a large scale version of using an ant moat.
Ants can’t easily get across large bodies of water as they can’t swim.
The water will help to clean up any nectar spillages below the feeder that attract the ants.
Plus you’ll find the water attracts hummingbirds to your yard to feed.
7. Move it around
Did you know that ants will leave a scent trail to a good food source? This helps other ants to locate the source easily.
The best way to avoid this is to rotate your hummingbird feeders regularly around different spots in your yard.
Do this at a time when there are no ants on your feeders. Otherwise, this method won’t work as the ants’ remaining on the feeder will take the scent back to their colony.
Moving the feeder will break the scent trail. The ants won’t keep looking for the feeder.
The great part is that hummingbirds are adaptable and will easily locate the new feeder position.
So you don’t need to worry that this will prevent the hummingbird from coming back to your feeder.
8. Offer a decoy
The truth is that ants aren’t specifically targeting your feeder. They just love access to an easy food source.
Offering an alternative that they don’t have to work as hard to get to can help deter the colony from your hummingbird feeders.
You can buy an ant feeder and place it on the ground. This makes it safer for the ants to eat the nectar without drowning like they do in the larger bird feeders.
Place the ant feeder near the colony. But, place it in the opposite direction of your hummingbird feeder. The ants won’t have to wander too far to get to the food source.
That way the ants are less likely to explore your yard and find the hummingbird feeder.
9. Use Plant Power
One of the best ways of attracting hummingbirds to your yard is by adding lots of plants for them. This provides a natural source of nectar.
You can use this to keep ants at bay by mixing in some plants that deter ants.
The best ants for repelling ants from your yard are:
- Tansy (hummingbirds love purple tansy)
Plant these near or underneath your hummingbird feeders. You’ll find that the ants won’t be willing to explore near there for food.
Also be mindful of plants that seem to attract ants including:
You may want to avoid these altogether. Or try planting them in an area of your yard away from your hummingbird feeders.
10. Food Repellants
There are lots of foods that repel ants. Usually, this is because they have a strong smell that masks their scents and breaks the trail.
You can use these foods against ants to naturally repel them from exploring around your feeders.
Food that ants hate are:
- Bay leaves
- Coffee grounds
- Citrus fruits
You can try to scatter these foods around the bottom of your feeder poles. This will stop ants from making the first steps to reading your hummingbird feeders.
You can also rub the foods on your feeder pole and over your feeder hook.
This ‘food wash’ should be enough to break any scent trail left by ants who have visited your feeder before.
11. Ant Guards
We’ve already discussed using ant moats. The problem is that they aren’t always 100% effective.
Ants are clever insects and may adapt to the moat by building an ‘ant bridge’ across the moat. This allows a pathway for other ants to cross the moat and make their way down the feeder.
Also, ant moats are only effective if you keep them filled with water.
The ants will just climb through a dry moat. This often happens in the summer. it’s caused by high temperatures making the moat water to evaporate quickly.
So what the solution?
You can use an ant guard instead.
The ant guard is a device the causes ants to walk through a layer of ant repellent called permethrin.
But wait! I thought you said not to use insecticides?
And you’re right. But permethrin is different, as it’s safe for both humans and birds to be around without any effect.
In fact, humans use permethrin in medicines for getting rid of lice, ticks, or scabies.
The ant guard also keeps the hummingbirds away from any direct exposure to the permethrin.
Remember the permethrin won’t kill ants, it will only repel them.
That means you won’t need to worry about intoxicated dead ants floating in your nectar.
12. Add cinnamon
Ants hate the smell of cinnamon. So it’s a great food to use to repel ants from your feeders.
Rather than sprinkling cinnamon around your hummingbird feeder, try using it inside the nectar.
Use natural cinnamon sticks to make sure there are no additives added to your sugar water.
The best way to do this adding a hint of cinnamon to your homemade hummingbird sugar water.
Add 2-3 cinnamon sticks and boil the water for 10-25 minutes. Let the water cool down then make up your nectar recipe as normal.
The hummingbird doesn’t appear to mind the cinnamon in the nectar.
The only thing to be mindful of with this tip is that some bees love cinnamon. You can check out my advice on how to keep bees away from hummingbird feeders.
13. Yard environment
Still struggling to keep ant at bay from your hummingbird feeders, despite using these methods?
Then you need to reassess your yard environment.
What I mean by that is that your yard is attractive to the ants?
Consider things near your feeders that may be causing ants to wander and find your feeders.
This can be:
- Piles of logs and wood (carpenter ants love this)
- Pet food bowls
- Putting out kitchen scraps for birds
- Poor kept lawn
- Overflowing trash cans
If you can say yes to any of these things, then consider fixing these issues.
The truth is that a well-kept yard is less likely to attract ants. that’s because there is a poor food source and no ant work for them in the soil.
5 things you shouldn’t Use to Keep Ants off Your hummingbird feeders
So we’ve looked at 13 different natural ways you can keep ants away from your hummingbird feeders.
But you’ve probably noticed that’s I’ve missed a few methods suggested by other articles.
What happened to those?
Well, I missed these suggestions out on purpose.
I wanted to highlight that there is advice out there that can deter ants from your feeders. Yet, it’s really dangerous for hummingbirds.
Let’s look at each of these and why I suggest you don’t use these methods to get rid of ants from your hummingbird feeders.
1. Commercial ant traps
Ant traps would seem like an easy option to use to get rid of an ant problem.
And your right, they are usually pretty effective.
The problem is that you’re killing the ants off.
And while that may seem like a good idea to solve your feeder problem. You’re making things worse for your yard ecosystem.
Ants help to :
- Aerate the soil to help plants grow
- Fertilize plants
- Pollinate flowers
- Control other insects
- Provide food for birds
Natural methods to control ants at your feeders are a much better solution than killing them off.
You’ll only cause more harm to your backyard wildlife and birds in your area.
2. Use insecticides
If there is one tip you take away from his article, make it this one.
Do not use insecticides to kill ants at your hummingbird feeders.
Insecticides are one of the 4 main threats to birds in the USA.
Using insecticides also kills off a food source for birds. This is worse in spring when birds need lots of insects to feed their chicks.
If birds come into contact with insecticide its likely the chemicals will be toxic to the birds.
One insecticide considered safe to use around birds is permethrin.
If you go for this method use it in a small controlled way, such as in an ant guard.
Some people use the spray version on the top of their hummingbird feeders to keep ants away.
I’d strongly recommend avoiding this as aerosol particles are harmful to hummingbird’s delate lungs.
I’ve seen lots of advice that you shul degrease your feeder poles or hooks. Usually, they suggest using oil, Vaseline, menthol vapor rub, or insect barriers like Tree Tanglefoot.
Please don’t follow this advice.
Whilst it may stop the ants by making the surface slippery, you’re putting the hummingbirds at risk.
Remember hummingbirds are very territorial around feeders. That means they squabble a lot and there is often a lot of fighting.
This behavior causes the hummingbird to come into contact with other parts of the feeder such as the lid, the side, the hook, or a feeder pole.
That means if you’ve greased up any of these areas this will transfer to the hummingbird feathers.
These greasy, oily substances will cause damage to the hummingbird delicate feathers. This will expose them to disease and inability to keep warm and dry.
4. Glue traps
Glue tape or traps are a commercial product you can use to trap ants as they march onto the sticky surface.
But putting them anywhere near a hummingbird feeder will end in disaster.
The hummingbird can easily come into contact with these areas around the feeder.
They’ll then become stuck as likely die from entrapment or succumb to injuries to their feathers.
If this happens to a hummingbird, it’s a slow and painful way to die.
These traps are also a huge risk to wildlife other than birds. This includes snakes, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and bats.
5. Essential oils
We know that strong smells repel ants. So essential oils seem like a great way to address that issue.
The trouble is that there isn’t any research into the safety of using essential oils near wild birds.
Each brand may also differ in the additives they use.
What we do know is that birds have very sensitive lungs and may be sensitive to oil droplets in the air.
As birdwatchers, we should never do any harm.
If we don’t know the risks it poses to the birds, then it’s not worth it to keep a few ants away.
So how do you keep ants out of your hummingbird feeder?
Now you have 13 different natural strategies to use to deter the ants. Plus 5 more strategies to avoid to keep your hummingbirds safe.
Remember the aim is to keep the ants away but not to kill them. They do good work in your yard and are can be a good food source for you other bird visitors too.
Let me know which ant repelling strategies have been successful for your hummingbird feeders in the comment below.