Bird feeders can help you attract colorful birds to your yard, but they also attract other types of wildlife.
The type of pests your feeders vary from one type of bird feeder to another, but most species can become invasive in your yard and even create problems in your house.
Some of the most annoying bird feeder pests include:
- Bees and wasps
- Indian meal moths
- Rats and other rodents
- Deer and bears
Bird feeders can also attract other pests. Find out which pests you should look out for and how to get rid of them.
11 Common Bird Feeder Pests & How to Eliminate Them
1. Bees and Wasps
Bees and wasps are among the most common hummingbird feeder pests. After all, bees, wasps, and hummingbirds all feed on sugary nectar.
Hummingbirds and insects have no problems sharing the sweet goodness in nature. However, when bees and wasps get used to a hummingbird feeder, you may end up with hundreds of stingy insects into your yard.
Not only do they deter hummingbirds, but you might even risk being stung while replenishing – or otherwise handling – the feeder.
The easiest way to keep these pests away is by checking the feeder regularly for leaks and cleaning it daily. Bee guards can also help.
Other ways to get rid of bees and wasps include:
- Choosing a red hummingbird feeder (bees and wasps are attracted by yellow rather than red)
- Using saucer feeders
- Deterring bees and wasps with fake wasp nests
- Providing bees and wasps with a pollinator garden
- Reducing nectar sweetness
- Using natural bee repellents, such as cucumber peel or essential oils
Much like bees and wasps, ants often take advantage of bird feeders – and not necessarily hummingbird feeders only.
These tiny insects have voracious appetites and eat pretty much anything. They are particularly fond of nectar and sugar syrup found in hummingbird feeders, but don’t say no to suet, seeds, fruits, and other popular bird foods.
Ants usually climb up the poles or descend onto the feeders via the rope or wire that ties them to a tree branch. Barriers are typically the easiest ways to keep ants away from bird feeders.
One of the most common types of barriers is the ant moat, which is a dome (or inverted dome) like structure.
Inverted domes are usually filled with water, while standard moats designed to install under the feeder have very slippery surfaces. This prevents ants from gripping onto them, so they slip.
While moats are the most popular method to get rid of ants, they can also be repelled with essential oils, bay leaf, mint, and catnip.
Prevention methods include frequent cleaning of the feeder, frequent feeder relocation, and the use of a fishing line to hang the feeder rather than wire or rope.
Feeding birds with unsweetened suet or seeds, diluting hummingbird nectar, and making the feed undesirable for ants with cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and lemon juice are other ways to get rid of ants from your bird feeders.
3. Indian Meal Moths
Indian meal moths are a common bird feed pest, but they don’t alter the quality of bird feed. In fact, most bird species will likely appreciate the extra protein these insects – and their larvae – provide.
The main problem with Indian meal moths is that their presence in the bird feeder is almost always a sign that the bird feed inside the bag is infested.
If you store the bird feed in the pantry near other dried goods, such as rice, beans, or grains destined for human consumption, these insects may spread and contaminate your foods, too.
While you don’t have to eliminate meal moths from the bird feeder, you have to get rid of the source.
The only method to get rid of these moths is by freezing the bird feed. Use airtight containers or bags to divide the bird feed bag into smaller portions, and freeze them for at least a few days.
Do the same with other contaminated grains and use them as food for wildlife.
Moth traps and essential oils, such as thyme, clove, cedar, and rosemary could also deter these insects. Just keep in mind that certain foods absorb odors, which could be an issue if you decide to hang essential oil sachets in your pantry.
Similar to meal moths, beetles can contaminate bird feed and other types of grains. The problem is almost the same – most birds eat beetles, and you don’t have to throw away a larger bag just because you’ve seen beetles or beetle larvae in the seeds.
However, these pesky insects can easily spread and contaminate other foods you have in the pantry.
Since the cost of an infestation can hardly compete with the cost of bird feed, you might want to dispose of any open bags if you’re worried about beetles spreading through your house.
Freeze any food bags that are not open, to eliminate potential dangers. Once defrosted, store the food in airtight containers and pay close attention when opening the containers to fill the feeders.
Other than that, birds will likely appreciate the extra protein in the feed.
Rats are opportunistic rodents. Unlike mice, which can be fuzzy, rats don’t care what they eat as long as it’s within easy access. Hence, seeds or suet in a bird feeder become obvious targets.
While rodents are more likely to become interested in bird feed in winter, the feeders aren’t necessarily safe in summer. That’s especially true if you live in an urban area where these pests can’t find food in nearby fields or parks.
The problem is that rats can become incredibly aggressive and scare away avifauna. If the feeder is placed near your home, they could also get inside, raiding your kitchen and even finding a cozy spot in a wall or attic where they can nest.
If you don’t want rodents to become interested in bird feeders, keep the area under the feeder clean and use rat-proof feeders that prevent rodents from getting to the seeds. This will likely discourage them.
If rats have managed to get used to the bird feed, you can employ various methods to deter them:
- Rat-proof the feeder pole with baffles
- Use a covered bird feeder
- Cover the feeder with a weather guard
- Use a weight-sensitive feeder
- Offer unappealing food
Raccoons are omnivores, and like most types of wildlife, they are opportunistic.
While bird feed is not their first choice, raccoons that get into your yard for fruits, vegetables, and other edibles you may grow can take an interest in the bird feeders.
Since raccoons are nocturnal animals, they are unlikely to scare away the birds as they are feeding. Yet, their scent may deter birds.
Nocturnal bird feeder raids can also deplete the seed supply quite fast, not to mention the damage that raccoons can cause.
To get rid of them, you can employ several methods used to get rid of rats. For instance, you can hang the feeders high on poles that raccoons can’t climb, use a squirrel baffle to prevent them from reaching the seeds, or use rodent-proof feeders.
Repellent sprays and a strategic location of the feeders away from fences, walls, and other structures that raccoons might climb can also help.
To prevent attracting raccoons to your yard, avoid leaving food scraps out and empty the feeders each day after dusk. While refilling them each morning can be quite a chore, you minimize the risk of raccoon raids and can also deter rodents.
Like rats and mice, squirrels are rodents, opportunistic, and fond of a variety of seeds and grains found in bird feed. Especially during winter and in periods of scarce food availability, squirrels are likely to become attracted by bird feeders.
While these creatures are way cuter than rats, they can be harder to deal with. Squirrels are very agile, they can climb on almost all surfaces and can make impressive jumps.
Hence, the proper placement of the feeders away from any structures that squirrels could use is crucial. You should invest in squirrel-proof feeders and hang them from squirrel-proof poles. Alternatively, install a squirrel baffle on an existing pole.
Spicing up the bird feeders and using homemade deterrents, such as plastic bottles, chili peppers, or spinning hooks can also help.
You could also use natural squirrel deterrents such as geraniums and flowers in the allium family. Keeping the ground under the feeder clean and avoiding overfilling are other ways to get rid of squirrels raiding your bird feeders.
Spotting deer in your yard might be similar to spotting squirrels – you may not consider these mammals pests, but they can quickly become a nuisance.
The problem with deer is that they are voracious herbivores.
They can come into your yard in search of edibles, like shrubs and flower buds, they can damage your vegetable garden, fruits, and even go through a bird feeder quite fast. Not to mention that they can damage the feeder.
Due to the size of these mammals, there aren’t many methods to use to get rid of them. To prevent attracting them in the first place, always keep the area under the feeders clean and hang them extra-high (eight feet or more).
Instead of hedges around the yard, use plants that deer don’t like. A few options include chives, daffodils, lamb’s ears, oregano, and bee balm.
If deer are a nuisance – and potential tick spreaders only – more dangerous pests that can raid your bird feeders are bears.
These wild mammals are more likely to get into your yard in late fall, as they prepare for hibernation, or in early spring when they get out of dens and are very hungry.
In rural areas, though, bears might become a fixture into your yard all year long if they become fond of bird seeds.
If you live in an area with bears, keep the ground under the feeder ultra-clean. Place the feeders in an open area and hang them on tall poles.
Willows, lupines, columbines, and penstemons are a few plants that can deter bears, and you should also invest in tall (and sturdy) fencing.
10. Other Birds
While the whole purpose of placing bird feeders in your yard is to attract birds, the seeds may appeal to a wide range of avifauna.
Some opportunistic species, such as grackles, pigeons, and crows, could scare off smaller birds and claim the feeders as their own.
Since most “bully birds” are relatively large in size, a way to deter them is by using caged feeders that would only allow small birds to access the seeds.
Choosing bird seeds that bully birds don’t particularly like can also work. For instance, most native songbirds like safflower seeds, but magpies, crows, and pigeons aren’t particularly fond of them.
Squirrels and rats aren’t very fond of safflower seeds either, so you might kill two birds with a stone, so to speak, and deter two pests at once.
Cats are carnivorous animals and agile predators. They obviously don’t care about the bird seeds in the feeders, but they can become a fixture near the feeders in an attempt to catch the birds.
Whether you have an indoor/outdoor cat or the birds get disturbed by a cat that isn’t your own, remember that a cat’s success near a feeder largely depends on how well it can hide from view.
Placing the feeders away from shrubs or bushes will force the predator out in the open, allowing birds to escape and discouraging the kitty.
Motion-activated sprinklers around the feeder can also discourage cats – although feral cats that are very hungry might not be bothered by water.
Like most mammals, cats also dislike certain scents. Planting lavender, citronella, pennyroyal, or lemon thyme near the feeders can keep cats away.
For your own cats, a catio – an enclosed structure where cats can enjoy the outdoors in a controlled environment – can allow them to get fresh air without scaring away or killing unsuspecting birds.
Common bird feeder pests include rats, squirrels, ants, bees, beetles, deer, bears, raccoons, other birds, and cats. Repellent scents can discourage most of these species. Using bird feed that other animals aren’t very fond of might also help.
No matter what pests you’re dealing with, we hope this guide can help you find the most adequate solution to get rid of them.