The Ever Important Ant Moat
“Every day, every single day I’m changing the nectar because of ants” my friend said in desperation. Insisting if she’d just use an ant moat, the problem would be solved. She kept saying her feeder had one, to which I replied “then keep it filled”. When she told me “you can’t” – I then insisted “then something’s upside down!”
How frustrating because it’s a fairly simple principle… ants won’t cross water because they never took swimming lessons. Gathering two moats and a new glass hummingbird feeder she had her eye on, it was time to see the moat that couldn’t be filled, it piqued my curiosity.
Upon seeing the cheap plastic feeder (it’s okay, we use them sometimes too) it was absolutely moat-less. “There’s no moat, that’s why the ants keep getting to it”. I showed her the little cup-shape moat, said to fill it with water and hang the hummingbird feeder directly below.
It was like a light went off, and a clear understanding was now obvious. Why would we even mention it? Because everyone starts somewhere when feeding the birds. When you’ve been doing it for 30 years or so, much knowledge is gained as to what works and what doesn’t. The hobby’s become wildly popular in the past few years, which means there’s a lot of folks who are fairly new to backyard birding.
Everyone loves hummingbirds, they’re one of summers’ highlights, but ants can ruin the experience quickly… for the tiny sprites too! It takes just one pesky ant to sour a feeder full of fresh nectar – and that’s a bummer. They must emit something terribly fowl to hummingbirds?
Save your nectar and your money by using a moat and making your own sugar-water solution. It’s SO easy and really fast, no red dye needed. Table sugar and water at a 1:4 ratio… that’s it! No other ingredients as they’re harmful to the birds. During migration, the nectar can be a bit stronger at 1:3, the extra calories serve the birds well for their long journey ahead.
Oh yeah, and the pretty glass feeder was an instant hit with her hummingbirds, she said it took about four seconds before they discovered it and started feeding!
Why Use an Ant Moat with Feeders?
Sugar, anything with sugar is bound to attract ants! Be it hummingbird, oriole, butterfly or any fruit & jelly feeder… ants will find them-especially in hot, dry weather. They spoil nectar for hummingbirds, the sprites will not drink from a feeder containing ants. Same goes for grape jelly and oranges set out for orioles, and even butterfly feeders offering nectar. Ants must exude something quite nasty as it only takes one to ruin a meal.
The most basic ant moat is simplistic in design, an upside-down umbrella or cup that holds water. Ants drown when trying to cross water. Some prefer to coat the inside with petroleum jelly instead, which also acts as a barrier for ants. To slow water evaporation, you can a drop or two of cooking oil to the moat’s water.
Etched hummingbird feeders shown above have unique wood tops and bases and offer their own optional ant moat. With sleek style and matching wood grain, this type of moat features a grooved underside containing an anti-ant substance that lasts for several years. It’s neat and clean with no filling required.
Parasol crafts a mean ant moat, in red or black it looks like, well… a parasol! We’ve seen goldfinches actually drink from these on hot summer days, even though several birdbaths are always kept clean and full! The ant moats work well with any feeder, regardless of how many vessels.
You can feed hummingbirds without attracting pesky ants… of course using a no-drip feeder really helps.
As for bigger pests? We caught a raccoon red-handed, drinking from a feeder on the deck the other night. He had both hands wrapped around the feeder, guzzling like it was beer! New solution: bring said feeder inside at night… dang!
Hummingbird Feeder Sans the Ant Moat
The busy hummingbird season’s winding down, and all of a sudden you’ve got ants who’ve discovered the nectar… yuck! Hummingbirds won’t drink (or prefer not to) from feeders with ants or bees, or any insects in their nectar – just doesn’t taste too good. If buying an ant moat this late in the season isn’t so appealing to you, there’s an easy way to get around the pests in your nectar!
Vaseline! Yes a dab of petroleum jelly around the hanger will thwart ant’s passage. If your feeder hangs in direct sunlight (which really isn’t the best location) just try to be sure that if the gooey stuff melts-it doesn’t enter the feeder’s ports. As the one in charge of six hummingbird feeders at the stables, an even better alternative was discovered this year.
It’s called Swat, and it’s purpose is to keep flies and gnats off horses’ wounds, out of their ears, or away from their eyes. There’s two kinds: original which is pink, and their newer version, which is clear, but like always… original is best due to the thicker consistency. They made it in clear because some folks don’t care for the “war paint” effect on their horse. Anyway… this stuff rocks as far as an ant moat! A dab around the hangers back in July… and it’s still working!
And the cool deck-mount feeder above? Parasol stopped making it for this reason… ants and no way to use a moat. The Flower Box is still around (in lavender and green too) and the same principle applies with the Vaseline application. A dab around the hangers and back of the basket keeps this hummingbird feeder ant-free… sans the moat.