How to Keep Black Ants Off of a Hummingbird Feeder
Ants are drawn to nectar in a hummingbird feeder, but too many ants on a feeder can prevent birds from visiting it. Keep ants away with a variety of techniques.
More than 300 hummingbird species exist, and 12 of them flit in summer gardens in North America. Many gardeners set up hummingbird feeders to attract the colorful fliers, but the birds aren't the only wildlife drawn to the feeders. A hummingbird feeder's sweet nectar -- made of sugar and water -- also may attract black ants and other ants, and the presence of these insects can deter hummingbirds from visiting the feeder. Use different techniques to keep ants away from your feeder and make it as attractive to hummingbirds as possible.
Make a Smart Feeder Choice
Hummingbird feeders usually can be divided into two styles:
- Tray feeders
- Bottle feeders
Some gardeners avoid bottle-style feeders. As the air in a feeder's bottle heats, it forces nectar upward and out of the bottle, and the resulting dripping mess attracts ants, bees and other insect pests. Tray feeders do not have that problem.
Move the Feeder
If you notice ants on the feeder, simply move its location. Moving it is often enough to confuse the foraging ants and prevent them from turning the hummingbird nectar into a constant, habitual food source. You don't need to move the feeder very far. A change of just a few feet is often enough to confuse ants, bees and other insects.
Create a Sticky Barrier
To get to a hummingbird feeder's sweet nectar, ants must first climb and scale the wall, vertical post or shepherd's hook from which the feeder hangs. Stop them in their tracks by smearing petroleum jelly, cooking oil or a similar sticky substance at only the base of the wall or post, including the base of a shepherd's hook post, or by smearing it at the very top of the hummingbird feeder's hook. Sticky insect barrier products available at garden stores and plant nurseries also can be applied in the same fashion.
Make a Moat
Ants can't swim. A watery moat between the hummingbird feeder and the ants will prevent ants from getting to the feeder. Ant moats made specifically for hummingbird feeders are available commercially, but you can make your own ant moat.
Poke a hole in the bottom of a spray can's removed cap, an empty yogurt container or a similarly sized cup-type container, ensuring whatever container you use is clean. With the container's opening facing upward, run the hummingbird feeder's hanging rope or hanger through the hole you made in the container. Seal the remaining space around the hole with glue from a hot-glue gun, and then fill the cup with water.
As ants crawl down the rope or hanger attached to the feeder, they'll encounter the water-filled cup and drown.
Regardless of the hummingbird feeder style you choose, install the feeder in an area that doesn't receive direct sun exposure all day. Heat from the sun can cause the feeder's nectar to spoil. Also, chronic sun exposure may weaken or break plastic parts in the feeder and increase the risk of leaks causing an ant-attracting, sugary mess.
Inspect your hummingbird feeder daily. Wipe it with a warm, clean, wet cloth if its nectar overflowed or spilled.
Do not apply sticky substances directly to a hummingbird feeder or to where hummingbirds may touch or eat them. The sticky substances can get on the hummingbirds' feathers, and that situation can harm the birds.
- Seattle Audubon Society: Feeding Hummingbirds in the Winter
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds: Feeding Hummingbirds
- Oregon State University Extension Service: Get Your Hummingbird Feeders Cleaned and Ready in February
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: Insect Pests at Hummingbird Feeders
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds: Feeder Pests and Predators -- Insects
- Annenberg Learner, Journey North: Hummingbird -- Bees at Your Feeders?
Joshua Duvauchelle is a certified personal trainer and health journalist, relationships expert and gardening specialist. His articles and advice have appeared in dozens of magazines, including exercise workouts in Shape, relationship guides for Alive and lifestyle tips for Lifehacker. In his spare time, he enjoys yoga and urban patio gardening.