Feeders filled with sugar water or jelly attract sweet-tooth birds, such as hummingbirds and orioles. But sometimes, not-so-welcome guests, including ants, wasps and bees, crawl into feeders and create problems. “You can deter insects while remembering they’re part of nature, too,” says Emma Greig, the project leader for Project FeederWatch of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
For frustrated backyard birders, it may be tempting to use pesticides or oils to deter bugs, but Emma advises against these options because they may harm birds, as well as the bees whose populations are declining. Instead, try some of these all-natural solutions. The birds (and bees!) will thank you.
1. Choose red saucer feeders.
With their long tongues, hummingbirds can reach the nectar—but insects can’t. Plus, while hummingbirds prefer the color red, bees are attracted to yellow. (Read more! Hummingbird Sugar-Water 101)
2. Attach an ant moat.
Ant moats are typically about 3 inches wide and 1 to 2 inches deep, above jelly and sugar-water feeders. Because ants can’t swim, water is an effective deterrent. Make moats or buy feeders with moats built in. Keep them clean and filled with water.
3. Hang feeders with fishing line.
Fishing line is too thin for ants to climb, which means they won’t be able to reach your hummingbird feeders for a free meal.
4. Slip nectar guard tips over hummingbird feeder holes.
The nectar guards block insects like yellow jackets, but hummingbirds can still get to the nectar. You can buy them or create your own mesh guard out of an onion bag.
5. Periodically move the feeders.
Just moving feeders by 3 or 4 feet will help insects lose track of them. Birds will still find them easily, but insects often won’t.
6. Hang a few fake wasps’ nests.
Make sure to do this in protected areas to deter real wasps, which are territorial and won’t typically venture into a place they think is already occupied.
7. Plant bee- and hummingbird-friendly food sources.
Try annuals like fuchsia and impatiens and perennials like trumpet vine, bee balm and milkweed in hanging baskets and in your garden. (Read more! Top 10 Award-Winning Hummingbird-Friendly Flowers)