How to Keep Ants Away From Hummingbird Feeders - Dengarden - Home and Garden
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How to Keep Ants Away From Hummingbird Feeders

Living on a farm in Brazil, I've gained local in-depth knowledge of food, plants, and traditions, which I share through my articles.

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It's so infuriating putting out a hummingbird feeder only to find it quickly overrun with pesky ants. Not only does it keep the hummingbirds and other nectar-feeding birds away, it encourages more ants—and that is something nobody wants.

After looking on the internet and being discouraged with the results, I have come up with an easy and virtually free way to keep ants away from my feeders. In fact, it's so simple that you'll likely be able to do this with items you have around your house.

Ways to Keep Ants Away From Hummingbird Feeders

When I looked on the internet for ideas, all I found were ideas for moats or coatings for the hook or chain. I have tried all of these with only limited success. Let's look at their shortcomings.

  • Moat: The idea is sound and eco-friendly. But for me, this was a complete non-starter. I live in Brazil, and we have a problem with mosquitoes at certain times of the year. Any standing water is best to be avoided, so a moat was out of the question. The other issue I had with it is evaporation, I don't want to be refilling a small bowl of water several times a day. So whether it was a large or small amount of water, neither was ideal for my situation or location.
  • Coating the hanger or hook: Among the coatings people use are Vaseline or Vicks VapoRub. The idea behind this method is that the ants don't like to walk across a sticky surface. I have also read that they don't like the smell of Vicks, and it will act as a repellent. I tried the Vaseline, and it worked for awhile. But I had to keep reapplying, which was a nuisance. Plus, it turns out the hummingbirds don't like Vicks either. They have a well-developed sense of smell and also stayed away. Not quite the solution I was hoping for.

I love having hummingbirds visit my feeders. But if it is going to cost me a lot of time and/or money, I would need to rethink hanging my feeders out.

How to Make Your Hummingbird Feeder Ant Proof

Finally, after a lot of trial and error, I discovered a quick, long-lasting and inexpensive set up, which is perfect for preventing ants on the hummingbird feeders where I live.

What I have found works best for me is a simple plastic lid, the type that comes on a carton of ice cream or margarine container.

Materials You'll Need

  • A plastic lid
  • A piece of wire (I used a flexible and plastic-coated wire, but a wire coat hanger would work.)
  • Something to poke a hole, such as a pair of scissors, a skewer, or the point of a knife.
  • Insect spray or kitchen cleaning spray, such as Mr. Muscle or 409

Directions

  1. Begin by making a hole in the center of your plastic lid. Push from the underside towards the top. I use a metal skewer but you could use a knife, scissors or whatever you have to make a small hole. Make the hole as small as possible but large enough to allow your wire to pass through.
  2. Spray the topside of the lid with insect spray, 409, Mr. Muscle or another product that will repel ants. (In case you didn't know, those kitchen cleaning products also work against bugs, and it is a secret that professional exterminators don't want you to know about.) Although many of us use these cleaning products, I suspect many people don't rinse their surfaces after using them. In fact, they leave behind a residue that is toxic to humans. Just another reason I believe it is best to use natural cleaning products in the kitchen. *Edit. I have received a message from a reader that he used Dawn dish soap and that worked for him!
  3. Leave the plastic lid to dry.

How to Prevent Ants From Crawling Onto Hummingbird Feeders

The next step is to simply make a loop in the wire—this will need to be wrapped around a couple of times. If you can't do it with your fingers, use pliers. This has to support the weight of the feeder.

All of my feeders are glass, so they are quite weighty when full of the sugary water solution. This loop is the part that will hang from your hook, bracket or whatever type of fitting you currently have for your hummingbird feeder.

Slide the plastic lid—which has been sprayed and left to dry—onto the metal wire. The sprayed side should be on the top or facing up. Now make a bend in the wire leaving about 1.5 inches. This is to support the lid. You can see an example of this in the photo.

I have had great success with this method and left it for weeks without respraying it. I don't know if this is because the spray penetrated the plastic or if the ants remember that as a potential danger.

The lid will bobble about in the wind, but as long as it is supported by the wire, you will have no problem.

If you are worried about using this spray near the feeder, don't be. I have never seen many of the hummingbirds or other nectar-feeding birds even attempting to land on it. I think this is partly due to its unstable (or wobbly) surface. Plus, they are eager to get to the sugar water.

I would also like to add here that not only do we get the hummingbirds visiting our feeders, we have them nesting in our garden. It is quite fun to see the small eggcup-size nest being constructed and then filled with eggs the size of Tic Tacs. Once they hatch, all we can see are the pointed beaks sticking out of the nest.

Your birds may at first wonder what the heck this new contraption is. But once they go in and sample the liquid, they will know there is no danger.

Is it the prettiest thing hanging on your patio or porch? No, but it's effective. When I change the sugar water, I leave the wire and plastic lid in place and only remove the bottle.

There are many flowers that attract hummingbirds.

There are many flowers that attract hummingbirds.

Attracting Hummingbirds to Your Garden or Backyard

By purposely selecting certain flowering plants, you can encourage hummingbirds to visit your garden. Not only will you get to see these beautiful little birds, you'll have beautiful flowers too!

So let's look at various types of plants that can be grown to get them to visit. Red flowers attract them. In fact, they take a great interest in anything red. I have seen a video of one flying to a camera strap that had a red Canon logo on it. They are inquisitive.

Tubular flowers are a bonus for them, as this type of flower can hold a lot of nectar.

Here at my home, we see them on the bougainvillea and both the cashew and the mango trees.

Below is a list of some common flowering plants that attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Opt for varieties in red for best results.

Plants That Attract Hummingbirds

Common NameLatin NamePlacement

Bee balm

Monarda

Full sun/light Shade

Butterfly bush

Buddleja

Full Sun

Catmint

Nepeta

Full Sun

Columbine

Aquilegia

Partial Shade

Coral bells

Coral bells

Full sun/light shade

Daylily

Hemerocallis

Full sun

Larkspur

Delphinium

Full/partial sun

foxglove

Digitalis

Full sun/light shade

Lupine

Lupinus

Full sun/light shade

Petunia

Petunia

Full sun

Red Hot Poker

Kniphofia

Full sun

Verbena

Verbena

Full sun

A ruby-throated hummingbird.

A ruby-throated hummingbird.

Interesting Hummingbird Facts

  • Hummingbirds also eat small spiders and other bugs for protein, not just nectar.
  • For its size, a hummingbird's brain is bigger than ours. At a whopping 4.2% of its body weight, it makes ours at 2% seem tiny by comparison.
  • This tiny bird has the ability not just to fly forward but also backward. A hummingbird can hover by making a figure eight with its wings, which can beat up to 200 times a second.
  • Hummingbirds can burn up to 12,000 calories a day!
  • To conserve energy at night, hummingbirds go into a short hibernation, called torpor.
  • They can be aggressive and territorial. We have seen hummingbirds chase predators such as hawks and kingfishers, here at our farm. My husband also saw one hummingbird pushing another to the ground and attack it. This dispute was over a feeding bottle.
  • In Brazil, the hummingbird is called Beija flor, which means 'flower kisser' in Portuguese.
  • Hummingbirds are only found in the western hemisphere extending from Alaska to Chile. However, hummingbird fossils, believed to be 30 million years old, have been found in France.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I've been using vegetable oil in the moat above the hummingbird feeder for the last four years to prevent ants - so far so good. Is this working for anyone else?

Answer: That is a great idea, thanks for sharing that. I can see the benefits to that as it won't evaporate like water or be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. My only concern is it may go rancid if not changed regularly.

Question: My ant moat does a fine job of keeping out crawling ants, but I find my feeder plagued with flying ants. How do I deter them?

Answer: Flying ants and wasps are a problem. I have found that by moving my feeders, it will keep them away. Of course, when they find the new location, I move it again. I have two places that the hummingbirds know to look. It isn't a permanent solution, but it's workable.

Question: Our hummingbird feeder has a dome, and yet the ants still get to the nectar. After reading your ideas, I came up with one of my own.

I used red electrical tape. First, one rotation, sticky side down, as usual, followed by a half twist, then wrapped with a wire hanger, sticky side out. The ants don't like it, it cheap, no harmful effects to the ecosystem.

How do you like my idea?

Answer: I think that is a great idea.

My only concern is that you will need to keep using more tape, as the sticky part gets coated in dust from the air. Other than that, it sounds brilliant. Thanks for the idea.

Question: I am following your directions but the WD40 spray on the lid STINKS! I'm letting it dry, does the smell dissipate? First time in 10 years I have had this ant problem.

Answer: You've misread what was written. I didn't say WD40, I said 409, the kitchen cleaner. Start with a new lid and use either a kitchen cleaning spray, such as 409, Mr. Muscle etc or an insecticide.

Question: I have tried two different hummingbird feeders, and they both leak. Do you have any ideas?

Answer: Firstly are they leaking because the wind is strong causing them to spill? If the unit is leaking, can you return it to the place you purchased it from?

I have glass bottles, and they have never leaked. Previously I had some plastic ones, and in our sunlight, they eventually became brittle and cracked.

You don't want to be dripping sugar water, as that will attract the ants.

I'd try and return that and buy a glass one.

Good luck, I hope it works out for you.

Question: Do you ever paint the lids of the hummingbird feeders before spraying the cleaning solution? I’m thinking this may help with the “visual appeal”.

Answer: I have never done it but I see no reason not to. As you say, it would be much more appealing to look at.

Question: Does it matter what size the plastic lid is as long as it is sprayed and hung correctly?

Answer: I can't see that it would. I always use one about the size of that shown in the photo but it cost you virtually nothing to try another size. Go for it, and let us know your results.

Question: I only use natural cleaners in my home. Will those work to keep ants away?

Answer: I would try it and see. If it keeps ants at bay in your home, it should have the same effect outside.

© 2016 Mary Wickison

Comments

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on August 08, 2020:

Thank you Linda, this gives the readers even more options to try. Ants and wasps can be such a nuisance on our feeders.

LINDA CHANEY on August 08, 2020:

I LOVE PEPPERMINT OIL I USE AROUND 8 OUNCES WATER 10-15 DROPS PEPPERMINT OIL DROP OR TWP OD DAWN OR OTHER BRAND IN SPRAY BOTTLE SPRAY ALL OVER KEEPS ALL FLYING BUGS WAY SPRAY HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER WIRE OR ROPE WITH SPRAY LET IT DRY SNTS, BEE, WASPS OTHER FLYING BUGS DISLIKE, HAVE HAD GREAT SUCCESS AND ITS NATURAL

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on June 13, 2020:

Hi Kathy,

Even if you're still under a shelter in place, it's likely you have everything you need at home. Hopefully by the end of the day, your hummingbirds will not have to contend with ants in their feeding bottle.

Kathy from Bristol,N.H. on June 13, 2020:

Hello, I’m so glad I found this page. Today I went to change my bird feeder and I had ants

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on July 24, 2019:

Hi LuLu,

Thanks for adding that. I'm certain many people have that problem and it is helpful to know that it has been successful for you.

LuLu Stenz on July 15, 2019:

Regarding keeping away wasps and flying ants from hummingbird feeders, I was told to put cooking oil around the necter holes on the feeder. The oil prevents the wasps and ants from putting their feet (legs) on feeder to get necter. I have been doing this for 2 years and its been working for me. My feeders have flowers in the plastic so I just get a qtip and rub oil around the flower.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on September 09, 2018:

Hi Peg,

I'm sure your hummingbirds will find your feeder, they cover a lot of ground in the course of a day.

The wasps can be a problem, but mine seem to be sporadic as we have many flowering trees and plants that keep them occupied.

I hope some of these solutions will help you.

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on September 09, 2018:

Thanks for this insightful solution to the ant problem. I'm going to give the plastic lid a try next time I refill the feeder. Right now, I'm hoping that the little guys will find it in the new location. Reading through the comments I see that I'll have to address the tiny wasp issues as well. I'll be looking for some of the plants on your list to help attract these birds.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on August 07, 2018:

Thank you for confirming that. It is another method in our arsenal to keep the ants away from our hummingbird feeders. Thanks

Paric on August 06, 2018:

I finally got rid of my ants in the hummingbird feeder. I took a shoe string and rapped it around the hanger cable. I then sprayed the string with WD-40. I done this two months ago and no more ant problems since. It did not discourage the humming bird from feeding daily. FYI

Mimi on July 10, 2018:

Last year I had lots of issues with wasps on my feeders. I tried one of those honeycomb looking wasp catchers and this year I've had no problems at all with the wasps.

Mimi on July 10, 2018:

I tried the moat idea, but like the author, I don't have the time to fill it several times a day. And, you have to be vigilant bc the ants will take over quickly if the moat is dry. I tried the Vaseline with no luck, the ants just walked over it. The Vick's has definitely worked the best. My hummingbirds don't mind the smell at all but the ants sure do! Finally, success!

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on June 27, 2018:

Hi Patrick,

Well that's a new one I hadn't heard before. It's often the unusual things that work the best. Thanks for throwing your idea into the basket of things to try to get those ants away from the hummingbird feeders.

Patrick on June 26, 2018:

Easy way to rid ants from humming bird feeder. Wrap old shoe lace around hanging feeder cable. Spray WD-40 on shoe string. No more ants in feeder.

Brenda Dear on June 10, 2018:

Putting baby powder on the hanger and if they are hanging on a deck, also put some baby powder on the wooden deck top you have to reapply every couple of days but it works

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 24, 2018:

That is a good idea, thanks for sharing your method for keeping ants away from your hummingbird feeder.

I put corn startch in the moat instead of water,ants don't like to walk on cornstarch on May 24, 2018:

I put cornstarch in my moat as ants don't like to cross cornstarch

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on July 29, 2017:

I bought my feeders from the States as the only ones I've seen here are plastic, and not attractive.

Although we have a wide variety of plants, we don't have a lot of flowers. I do know what you mean though, natural nectar is better.

Thanks for your comment.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on July 27, 2017:

Hi Mary - I had the prettiest hummingbird feeder and made my own nectar for it. But it quickly became an ant feeder. Hummingbirds rarely visited my feeder anyway. I just let the flowers do the job. They certainly like my red bee balm.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on July 22, 2017:

Oh, that's great news. You can of course jazz it up so it doesn't look like a plastic lid but just keep in mind you need to have a surface that you can wash and reapply the bug spray as and when needed.

Glad you found it useful.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 21, 2017:

I've been struggling with this problem for several summer and you have supplied the answer! Thank you!

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on February 27, 2017:

Hi Peggy,

Bees pose a different type of problem as they, like the hummingbirds, fly to the feeders. If they are bees and not wasps, I personally would do nothing, the plight of the bees is frightening and we should all be doing more to encourage bees into our gardens.

I am a big believer in planting flowers and leaving areas wild for certain insects. I have acreage though so leaving an area uncut for me isn't a problem.

At one point I had small wasps which hounded my hummingbird feeders preventing the birds from getting to a feeding station. You're right it is annoying! I found that moving it to a new destination helped as the birds found it before the tiny wasps did. Although not an ideal solution, in the short term, it may have long-term benefits. We haven't had wasps on the feeders for a couple of years now.

Let me know how you get on.

Peggy on February 26, 2017:

What about bees ? The minute the feeder comes out so do the bees it's so annoying

Any ideas ?

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on January 08, 2017:

Just remember to reapply the spray occasionally, especially if you have had rain.

Thanks for reading.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 07, 2017:

I will try this when we go back to our cottage this summer.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 22, 2016:

Hi Deb,

Ants don't only spoil picnics, lol. I was desperate to find a solution to the problem.

Thanks for putting it on your blog, I hope it will be an asset to both of us.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on May 22, 2016:

Wow, Mary, this is fabulous. Many people are plagued by ants, and this is going to be a Godsend to those that have wanted to retain feeders, but don't because of the pests. I'm going to put this on my blog, which should get you some exposure.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 21, 2016:

Hi Peggy,

They are such a joy to watch. The way they can delicately hover over a flower, is amazing to see.

If you know anyone who has a problem with ants on their hummingbird feeders, please share this with them.

Thanks for reading.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 21, 2016:

We have hummingbirds visiting our yard because of all the flowering plants so we do not bother with a hummingbird feeder. This is good to know however for all those with feeders for these tiny and cute creatures. Sharing!

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 07, 2016:

Hi Rajan,

Never a truer word was said, need necessitates change. Here on our farm, we seem to make a solution to a problem instead of buying commercial items.

Thanks for your kind words, and sharing.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on May 06, 2016:

What a creative contraption and a brilliant idea. Need is the mother of invention ain't it? Sharing this forward. Thank you.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 06, 2016:

Hi Dora,

Sometimes I am like a dog with a bone and won't give up easily. I do like to keep trying until get to a satisfactory conclusion.

I enjoy seeing the hummingbirds, and I wanted to continue attracting to our outdoor area.

Thank you for reading.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on May 05, 2016:

I hope so. It is a beautiful plant and you can make tea and cook with it.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 05, 2016:

A very interesting article indeed. Thanks for sharing the suggestions which didn't work and then your creative idea that solves the problem. Also thoughtful of you to share.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 05, 2016:

Well, squirrels we don't have although we do have monkeys. Luckily they haven't discovered my feeders. Where we live is 3° south of the equator and our temperature is a constant 88-90° (F) year round. I will have to find out if it will grow here.

Thanks for the suggestion and your kind words.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on May 05, 2016:

Mary, I agree, this is very well written and assembled article. Your solution is very innovative. You are so lucky to have a lot of hummingbirds. I'm not sure why but our location attracted only three to five regulars, but we found that the squirrels were chug-a-lugging the feeders. When both of us started having failing health, we stopped putting them out. However, I love pineapple sage and I always keep large pot of it growing in the summertime. It attracts the bees and a couple of our hummingbirds are back. I'm hoping they are some of our former regulars. Pineapple sage is one of the largest herbs I've ever grown and sometimes it makes it through the winter. if you are in a moderate to hot climate, I recommend your giving it a try. It is a gorgeous, but late summer bright red bloomer.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 05, 2016:

Hello Susan,

I suspect the ants are biding their time. At least now you've got a plan of action, just in case.

Glad you liked it.

Thanks for reading.

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on May 05, 2016:

Very good to know that this system has worked well for you. So far this year we haven't had ants on our hummingbird feeders, but last year we did. I suspect that as the weather continues to warm up, we'll need to try your clever solution. Thanks for sharing!

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 05, 2016:

Hi Bill,

Before moving to Brazil I thought there were two types of ants ~ red and black. It turns out there are about 22,000 different types and we have our fair share here in Brazil. Just for the record, black ants bite too.

I refuse to let my hummingbird feeders get overrun with the little blighters, so I came up with a solution to the problem.

I do hope the Gods at Google (and others) pick it up.

Happy Thursday to you as well.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 05, 2016:

I would think this is a very search-engine friendly article, but it's also interesting, well-written and very handy for most gardeners and lovers of birds. Thanks for the information, Mary, and Happy Thursday to you.