How to Keep Ants Away From Hummingbird Feeders
It can be 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. 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.
- 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 visiting the feeders. But if it is going to cost me a lot of time and/or money, I would need to rethink putting 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 or a skewer
- Insect spray or kitchen cleaning spray, such as Mr. Muscle or 409
- Begin by poking a hole in the center of your plastic lid. Push from the underside towards the top. I use a skewer but you could use a knife, scissors or whatever you need to make a small hole. Make the hole as small as possible but big enough to allow your wire to pass through.
- 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.
- 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 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 normally, 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.
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
Full sun/light Shade
Full sun/light shade
Full sun/light shade
Full sun/light shade
Red Hot Poker
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.
Do you plant trees and bushes known to attract hummingbirds or just rely on feeders?
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
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?
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.Helpful 21
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”.
I have never done it but I see no reason not to. As you say, it would be much more appealing to look at.Helpful 4
I have tried two different hummingbird feeders, and they both leak. Do you have any ideas?
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.Helpful 12
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?
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.Helpful 17
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?
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.Helpful 13
© 2016 Mary Wickison