Where Hummingbirds and Ants Meet

Time for a gear shift on the Refuge. Handy-dandy tip number 105: "How to keep ants out of your hummingbird feeders". I can't say that I blame the ants for swarming over the feeders. After all, who doesn't love a little sucrose in solution with water? Heck, as my brother, an avid cyclist at one time, used to say "I never met a carbohydrate I didn't like."

Anyway, no matter how careful I am about not spilling nectar, the local ants always seem to find the feeders. I don't know if they bother the hummers (mostly ruby throated where we live), but as the feeders are hanging off of our decks, I'm not really crazy about them getting in my way. I am adverse to using poisons for obvious reasons. I tried using various kinds of materials on the hangers, such as vegetable oil and petroleum jelly, but they didn't work too well. I also tried to figure out some way of interrupting their "chemical trail" so they'd get lost. Ultimately, that led to a very simple and effective solution (no pun intended).

Here it is:
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All I did was take a used margarine tub, trim off the lip, poke a whole in the bottom, and then slip it over the hanger wire. I then slopped on a little silicone gel adhesive at the base to make it water-tight. Then it gets filled about halfway with water. Ants are not very good swimmers. If they climb down the wire and see the water, they will tend to go no further. If the ants happen to fall in, they have a very hard time climbing out as the tubs are made of polypropylene which is rather slippery (and which also happens to make a nice dielectric for capacitors, but that's for another entry). It's important not to fill the container full of water as this will make it easier for the ants to crawl out. These little things have been extremely effective and are ridiculously simple. You can even decorate them if you're not keen on advertising which margarine you buy (note the very artistic application of automotive spray paint in the picture above).

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Nice solution. We have two feeders and probably a dozen regulars that drain them about twice a day. Ours are also ruby throated. We were particularly annoyed last year by large numbers of yellowjackets. We put out some bowls of sugar water with some dishwashing detergent. The yellowjackets fell into the solution and drowned by the scores. It greatly reduced the number of yellowjackets harassing the hummingbirds (and us).

A drop of surfactant (detergent) will wet the swimming ants and preclude escape.

By Blind Squirrel FCD (not verified) on 31 Jul 2008 #permalink

I know hummers don't like larger flying insects like wasps and bumblebees, but since they eat insects as well as nectar, they might eat the ants. I don't know for sure, though. I do know that the abundance of insects in the native trees outside my bedroom window regularly attracts Black-Chinned Hummingbirds, though there are no hummingbird flowers out there.