The most common complaints I hear are about the neighborhood squirrel population. Though not predators, squirrels are devastating to a feeder and will knock down and chew up whatever they can get their paws on. As bad, or worse, in our area are the raccoons that slip right up to the house at night. Anyone who has had seed feeders knows the continuing battle to defeat the squirrel. Tall slick poles, barriers, repellents, and B-B guns are all effective – sometimes and for a little while.
When you have a good feeder that you have paid good money for, the last thing you want to see is pieces on the ground. One tip is to hang the feeder from a closed eye using a snap gate D-ring such as is often used for keys. These are available in any hardware or discount store. Before I discovered the ring, I had added a “safety chain” along with the hanger to at least keep the feeder from hitting the ground. Why it took me years to think of the ring I have no idea. Your friendly squirrel or raccoon may still chew whatever he can get to and for that there is little to offer other than sheer inaccessibility.
Bees and Wasps
Bees, wasps, and yellow jackets love hummer nectar and can be a problem of safety for both the humans and the hummers. Bees and wasps are attracted to yellow and, sure enough, many of the flower decorations on commercial feeders are yellow. Getting rid of them or painting them red is a start. Many of the bee guard feeders also are the leakiest and the puddle outside the feeder totally negates the need for the guard.
The first action you can take when bees begin to take over is simply to move the feeder a few feet. Hummers are a lot smarter than bees and will quickly adapt while the bees may just assume the source is gone.
Another plan I have heard is to hang a second feeder with nectar of 3 parts water to 1 part sugar and reduce the hummer’s feeder to 5 parts water to 1 part sugar. Separate the lower-sugar content feeder slightly from the old location. The bees will prefer the richer 3:1 nectar, the hummers will do fine on the 5:1 nectar, and the move should confuse the insects. If the feeder drips at all, it is necessary to keep the area of the drip washed down and clean.
While bats are not usually a problem in the Midwest, they can be in some parts of the country, particularly the Southwest. Some bats are also nectar feeders and pollinators and can drain a feeder overnight. A feeder with bee guards will keep them out or the feeder can be taken in at night. If taken in, you need to remember the hummers begin to feed just before sunrise and this is a critical feeding time for them.
Ants can be a real problem. In addition to being annoying, they can get into the nectar and die there. This is an unsightly mess and can contaminate the nectar. Ants can be deterred by the use of “ant guards” which hang between the hook and the feeder. Two kinds are generally available in birding stores and sometimes in the bird section of hardware stores. One is a cup which is filled with water and forms a moat the ants are not able to cross to get down to the feeder. The second type is an inverted cup between the hook and feeder which is smeared with cooking grease or commercial “tanglefoot” compound to deter the ants from crossing over to the feeder.
In the case of the moat, some recommend cooking oil in the moat but birds may see it as a water source and the oil is not a good choice. The oil may also get onto birds’ feathers. In the case of the inverted cup, “tanglefoot” should be carefully placed so it cannot get onto the feathers of any bird which might come into contact with the ant guard. Hummers are so light that the “tanglefoot” might ensnare them.
One source recommends hanging your feeder from fishing line to discourage ants.
Other Feeder Guests
Many other birds and animals like the nectar and will often be seen trying to feed at a hummingbird feeder. Besides the obvious insects, lizards may find the nectar to be tasty. Orioles, chickadees, finches, and woodpeckers also like the nectar on occasion and will especially use feeders with perches although the lack of a perch does not always stop them from feeding. Some of these can be tempted away from the hummingbird feeder by placing a dish of fruit or fruit jelly out just for them or providing a nice suet block for the woodpeckers.
Photo. Dick Scholten