How to keep ants out of hummingbird feeders – 5 expert-approved tricks

Keep feeders ant-free and enjoy more visits from hummingbirds with these tried-and-tested techniques

hummingbird on feeder with ants
(Image credit: Alamy)

A hummingbird feeder is a brilliant way to invite beautiful birds into our backyards, adding a wildlife-friendly dimension to our outdoor spaces.

Although, given their sugary contents, it is not just the hummingbirds that they attract, and you may have to take some simple measures to get rid of ants from the feeders as the weather warms up. 

Ants are a nuisance because they can contaminate the nectar and prevent hummingbirds from visiting, so it's well worth learning how to fend them off.

How to keep ants out of hummingbird feeders

Of course, knowing how to clean hummingbird feeders is key, as well as positioning the feeder in the optimal spot and knowing which ant-repelling methods to avoid.

We turned to wildlife experts for the best ways to keep ants out of hummingbird feeders, making for a more pleasant environment – both for the hummingbirds and for us.

hummingbird on glass feeder

(Image credit: Rebecca Harding / Moment / Getty Images)

1. Use an ant moat

One of the most effective ways to keep ants out is to use an ant moat, available at Amazon. These are small dishes that contain water, creating a barrier that ants cannot cross. Stainless steel ant moats are particularly good at holding up against the elements, plus they are easy to clean.

Zach Hutchinson is an ornithologist at the nation's largest bird conservation group, a hummingbird bander, and a consultant for the wild bird feeding industry. He explains that many hummingbird feeders use moats at the top of the feeders that can be filled with water. 

'While these moats do not reflect the moats of days long past, they can be used to prevent ants from reaching the sweet, sugary goodness of nectar,' he says. Just make sure you keep the ant moat topped up with water, otherwise the feeder will likely be visited by ants. If your existing hummingbird feeder does not have an ant moat, these are available to buy separately.

 Zachariah Hutchinson
Zach Hutchinson

Zach Hutchinson is the owner of and an ornithologist striving to ignite bird conservation globally. He is also the creator of the Great Wyoming Birding Trail and the author of Birding in Yellowstone National Park. Zach has banded and tagged over 15,000 wild birds and has efforted to protect birds for over a decade. However, he also crawled in the muck and grime in the world of reptiles and amphibians (and loved every moment) before his work with birds, as he worked in alligator conservation on the gulf coast to mitigate human and alligator conflicts.

2. Keep it clean

hummingbirds on feeder

(Image credit: Stephanie Frey Photo / Alamy Stock Photo)

An easy way to reduce the presence of ants, and keep bees away from hummingbird feeders, too, is to keep on top of cleaning. Little and often is best, and Trent Copperfield Vice President of On Demand Pest Control even recommends cleaning your hummingbird feeder on a daily basis. Consider cleaning it as part of your plant-watering routine or add a reminder in your calendar so you don't forget. 

Consistent cleaning will avoid any leftover residue from building up, which might attract ants. If your feeder has simply seen better days, consider replacing it with an attractive mason jar hummingbird feeder at Petco.

3. Consider placement

Thinking about hummingbird feeder placement is essential – the perfect position for a feeder is a shady spot that isn't too near to any trees or anything that ants might be able to use as a bridge onto the feeder. A cool spot will be best for keeping the nectar fresh, and, of course, it needs to be somewhere you can see it easily.

'Being close to ant colonies, ant aphid farms, or too near structures that already attract ants can exacerbate your ant problem,' comments Zach Hutchinson. 'However, if you can mount a hummingbird without direct contact with the ground, you can minimize access for ants. 

'Suspension cables, pulley systems, and other similar hanging systems can minimize the ability of ants to detect your sugar water as well as their ability to climb to it.' A thin and slippery fishing line is another option that is often recommended by the experts.

If you live in an area with persistent ants or find ant moats challenging to maintain, Kelsey Waddell from Wild Bird Scoop recommends hanging your feeder over a large body of water. 'This is a surefire deterrent,' she says. 

'Consider placing it in the center of a wildlife pond, fountain, or other water feature. Ants are unlikely to cross a significant amount of water, and the hummingbirds will appreciate having a place to cool down and bathe nearby.'

If ants keep on coming back, try repositioning the feeder in your backyard, and you may find this does the trick. Moving it to a new spot on the deck or patio may be all you need to do.

4. Sprinkle cinnamon

Using cinnamon in your soil

(Image credit: GettyImages)

A solution might just be waiting in your spice drawer, as cinnamon is a powerful ant deterrent, and can also be used when getting rid of ants in the kitchen.

'Not only does cinnamon create some delicious desserts, but it also can stop ants from approaching the feeding zones for hummingbirds!' agrees Zach Hutchinson. 'Spread a heavy layer of cinnamon around the base of the hooks or other infrastructure used to hold your hummingbird feeders. 

Avoid putting the cinnamon directly on your feeder and remember to reapply it whenever you refill the feeder.

5. Avoid pesticides

Steer clear of any harsh chemicals and pesticides in your wildlife garden because they can harm hummingbirds and other birds in your backyard. Experts will tell you that many insect repellents can harm other pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, too, and are often expensive and less effective than regular cleaning and natural methods like cinnamon.

Natural ways to encourage these feathered friends into our yards is to strategically plant flowers in the colors that attract hummingbirds. You could also put out fruit as another inexpensive way to attract hummingbirds.


Does Vaseline or vegetable oil keep ants out of hummingbird feeders?

It may make surfaces slippery, preventing ants, but wildlife experts firmly advise against it: 'Please do not use any greases to prevent ants from climbing onto hummingbird feeders!' says Zach Hutchinson. 'If this grease or oil gets onto the hummingbirds, it can be deadly.'

These oils affect a hummingbird's ability to control its feathers, which then impacts its ability to thermoregulate. With this ability inhibited, hummingbirds can suffer hypothermia or heat exhaustion in a matter of minutes. This method can also kill ants and other beneficial insects, like bees and butterflies, in a most inhumane way. 

Avoid this hummingbird feeder mistake by following the steps above, from daily cleaning to careful placement.

A final tip is to avoid yellow-colored hummingbird feeders, as these are said to attract insects. Some models feature yellow flowers, but this can lead to more bugs making their way to the feeder. 

And to give hummingbirds somewhere to rest and digest their food – and for males to court females – consider incorporating a hummingbird perch into your outdoor space.

Millie Hurst
Section Editor

Millie Hurst is the Solved Section Editor at Homes & Gardens. She has six years of experience in digital journalism, having previously worked as Senior SEO Editor at News UK in London and New York. She then gained experience writing for women's magazines before joining Future PLC in January 2021. Millie has written for an array of homes brands including Livingetc and Real Homes and was formerly Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home before taking on the position of Section Editor with Homes & Gardens. She has written and edited countless features on home organization, decluttering and interior design and always hopes to inspire readers with new ways to enjoy their homes. She lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire and loves to weave nature-inspired decor and nods to time spent in Italy into her own home.