I have been trying to attract hummingbirds to my yard with some success. I now see one or two of them enjoying nectar from my hummingbird feeders almost daily. I make my own hummingbird food using a mixture of sugar and water, without the red food coloring, since it’s not really needed. I change the food about once a week so that the sugar water is fresh and bacteria-free. 

One day, I noticed a black layer on top of the clear sugar water. As I got closer to the feeder, I saw a line of ants marching down a tree branch and right to the hummingbird feeder. My eye followed the trail of ants to the bottom of my crape myrtle tree. The dark layer on top of the sugary water was a very thick layer of dead ants.

I knew I didn’t want to spray the ants because it would contaminate the hummingbird food. Additionally, I limit my use of insecticides because I don’t want to kill insects indiscriminately. I know there are a few different kinds of ants: ones that eat sweets, ones that eat proteins, and some that eat both. These ants were definitely the kinds that eat sweets. I checked the Integrated Pest Management web site via tinyurl.com/4ypwp2fw, for a refresher on getting rid of ants. 

My refresher course said that ants may be attracted into trees by floral nectar, as well as ripening or rotten fruit. Ah-ha! The sugar water! I remembered that I had previously used a product called Tanglefoot, a pest barrier, to keep earwigs off my lemon tree. After recalling my previous success with this product, I decided that I would try using Tanglefoot to get rid of the ants in the tree and on the hummingbird feeder. Tanglefoot is extremely sticky. If I put just a little bit on the wire hanger of the hummingbird feeder, the ants would get stuck trying to get to the sugary water. So that’s what I tried. Another option I could have tried was to put the Tanglefoot on the limb of my Crape Myrtle tree. 

I checked the feeder for the next couple of days. There were actually very few ants caught in my trap. These ants must have had an amazing communication system. They got on their little ant cell phones and warned all their friends to find another sugary food source. In about two days, the ants were gone completely from the crape myrtle tree and no longer floating in the hummingbird food.

When using Tanglefoot on trees, protect the tree by wrapping the trunk with heavy paper or fabric so that the sticky material doesn’t actually touch the tree. In this case, I was careful to only use the product on the wire of the hummingbird feeder.

Another approach would have been to try ant baits. Ant baits contain insecticides mixed with materials that attract worker ants looking for food. Ants are attracted to the bait and recruit other workers to it. The workers carry small portions of the bait back to the nest where it will kill the other ants in the colony. Baits are more effective than sprays, because they kill the ants in the colony as well as the foraging ants.

The moral to my story is that sugar water can attract other creatures besides hummingbirds. I wanted to discourage the ants from using the hummingbird food and thereby drowning in it. Tanglefoot worked to keep the hummingbird feeder free from insecticides and bacteria. Those darn ants can go get their sustenance elsewhere!

The Master Gardeners will be live to answer your questions on Sunday, Oct. 23, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Halloween Event at Tulare City Library. They can also be contacted between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays to answer your questions at 559-684-3325, or visit their web site at ucanr.edu/sites/UC_Master_Gardeners.

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