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Control Insects on Hummingbird Feeders


Hummingbirds are attracted to a good nectar recipe, but so are ants, bees and wasps. Fortunately, there are many easy ways to control insects on hummingbird feeders to eliminate these pests without harming the birds.

Hummingbird Feeder Pests

Several types of insects find hummingbird nectar irresistible. Bees, wasps and ants are the most common uninvited guests, but other insects such as moths and earwigs may also be attracted to the nectar. When too many bugs are feeding on the sugar water, it becomes contaminated and less attractive to hummingbirds. In extreme cases, dozens or hundreds of insects may be monopolizing a feeder, preventing the birds from visiting it at all. By knowing the proper ways to control these insects, birders can manage their hummingbird feeders and reserve the nectar for the birds.

Ways to Control Insects on Hummingbird Feeders

There are many ways to control insects on nectar feeders, but the first thing that birders need to realize is that it is quite impossible to remove 100 percent of the insects that are attracted to a feeder. By using multiple methods, however, it is possible to encourage most bugs to dine elsewhere without harming the hummingbirds.

Effective and safe ways to control insects on hummingbird feeders include:

  • Choose No-Insect Feeders: Some types of hummingbird feeders are less insect-friendly than others. Saucer feeders, for example, position the nectar away from the feeding port and insects are unable to get to it, while hummingbirds with their long tongues have no trouble. Other feeder designs include ant moats or bee guards that are designed to keep insects from accessing the nectar without impeding hummingbirds.

  • Relocate the Feeder: Once hummingbirds find a food source, they will visit it frequently. Insects are only likely to visit convenient food sources and are less inclined to search for relocated feeders. Moving the feeder by just a few feet can minimize the insect visitors without discouraging the hummingbirds.

  • Avoid Yellow Feeders: Wasps and bees are attracted to the color yellow but do not find red appealing. Avoid feeders that have yellow insect guards or flower accents to minimize the feeders’ attractiveness to insects. If your feeder comes with yellow accents, repaint the accents with red, non-toxic paint.

  • Keep the Feeder Clean: As birds feed, drips of nectar will inevitably fall from their bills onto the feeder. Feeders can also drip if they are filled too full, as the air pressure inside the feeder will force the nectar out the feeding ports when it heats up. Each time the feeder is refilled, carefully clean the outside and around the feeding ports to remove spilled nectar.

  • Use Insect Traps: Commercial insect traps and feeder accessories are available to minimize insects’ access to nectar feeders. While these can be effective deterrents, use them sparingly so you do not disrupt the insects’ place in your backyard ecosystem.

  • Hang Feeders Carefully: Ants may climb a pole to reach a nectar feeder, so choose to hang the feeder from a branch or gutter instead. Using fishing line to hang the feeder is another option, as the line is too thin for most ants to climb to access the feeder.

  • Keep the Feeder Shaded: Most flying insects prefer to feed in full sunlight, so make nectar feeders less attractive by hanging them in a shadier spot. This will also keep the nectar cooler and slow fermentation.

  • Offer Substitute Feeders: If you want to minimize insects on hummingbird feeders but still want the bees around for your flowers or garden, offer them a substitute feeder with a sweeter sugar water solution. Place the diversion feeder in an obvious, sunny location, while using additional techniques to protect the hummingbird feeder.

  • Avoid Other Attractions: Bees, wasps and ants are naturally attracted to other features of your yard, including plants and flowers. This is highly desirable for a healthy garden, but avoid uncovered trash, soda cans and other things the insects may find attractive to minimize their unintended food sources and keep their populations under control.

How Not to Remove Insects

It may take several different techniques to completely minimize the appearance of insects at your hummingbird feeders. There are two techniques, however, that should not be used because they are potentially destructive to hummingbirds.

  • Insecticides: Even a small amount of pesticide chemicals near the hummingbird feeder can be devastating to small birds. Do not use any sprays near the feeder, and if you do choose to use insect traps, be sure they are positioned away from the feeder.

  • Oils: One home remedy for insects on hummingbird feeders is to use olive oil, cooking spray, petroleum jelly or similar substances around feeding ports or on the poles or chains supporting feeders. While this can deter insects, it can also harm the birds by sticking to their feathers and making it more difficult for them to preen and fly.

Not All Insects Are Bad

Not all insects are bad in a hummingbird garden, even if they do occasionally visit nectar feeders. Bees help pollinate flowers that can attract even more birds, and all these insects can be valuable food sources for other backyard birds. Using simple, safe techniques can manage insects so they do not bother hummingbird feeders and can remain a valuable part of a backyard ecosystem.

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