ANTS BE GONE!
A Method That Works
by Ken Highfill

We all feed our birds as well as possible. Unfortunately for us, ants like all of the bird foods too. Last year we were suddenly infested with carpenter ants in our den. These black, half inch long devils made a beeline for our birds' large gym and began feasting in the bird food dishes and on the food which had been dropped on the gym floor, a 2 foot by 5 foot area.

This was most definitely not an acceptable situation, as my wife quickly informed me. So I went in search of a way to get rid of the darned pests. Whatever I chose to do had to meet certain criteria. The solution had to be safe and not harm the birds or other pets. It had to be permanent, which meant it needed to kill not only the ants we saw, but also must be taken back to the nest to kill the queen and the other ants. And it also needed to be easy, quick and inexpensive.

After some research and trying a few things, we hit upon the perfect solution for us. It not only worked on the carpenter ants, but this year it also worked on some tiny ants which invaded our bird room.

Over the years, we have gathered many suggestions on how to get rid of ants. We will share some of those with you.

One person suggested a product called Terro on a cotton ball. We were unable to find that product.

Another suggestion was to mix 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of baking yeast and 1/2 cup of molasses, spread this mixture onto index cards and place the cards out to trap the ants in the sticky mess. Watching ants die slowly while stuck to an index card was not our idea of fun and didn't get the ants in the nest.

Another suggestion was to use the product Boraxo and sweep it into the carpet. Our bird room does not have carpet and the idea of Boraxo on a tile finish did not create wonderful visions. The same can be said of using diatemaceous earth. This DE is made up of very fine, very sharp little pieces. Our ants put on little boots and walk over almost anything. We, however, get the sharp thingys in our feet. Perhaps we are not as smart as the ants.

One helpful suggestion was to pour granular Durshan into the ant hills outside. We could not find the ant hills outside, but if we do, we will try pouring the stuff on.

Likewise, a helpful soul recommended using Combat Gold Label for meat eating ants. Our problem is that our ants may be vegetarian and we don't know how to ask them their preferences. We tried the regular Combat Ant traps. But our ants ignored these as if they didn't exist.

Someone suggested using Sevin powder (7% or 10%) and coating the legs of the cage with Vaseline or axle grease. We were hung up on deciding whether or nor the ants were to eat the poison before or after they are caught in the grease. We decided not to try this approach because if the ants were as confused as we were, they would never get it right.

Several people suggested that the cage be suspended and/or the legs of the cage be placed in containers of water. This keeps the ants from climbing up to the birds; however, the ants will still be there. We want the little suckers to go away.

Some suggested that we use bay leaves in and around the cages and/or breeding boxes. We did. Our ants walked right over to them, chewed the bay leaves into small strips and wove them into little panama hats. These they used to do a 'shuffle off to buffalo' soft shoe routine. At least, it was entertaining.

Another suggestion was to spread lemon juice in the area. It was supposed to repel the ants. Not ours - they walked right through the treated area.

A year or so ago, there was a suggestion proposed by someone on one of the bird oriented mailing lists. It used boric acid to get rid of ants. The author said that she had found an article in a gardening magazine that outlined the method. We tried it and it worked like a dream. It was safe, killed the ants and the nest, was easy and inexpensive, and didn't make a mess. The ants were completely gone in three days, never to be seen again. We had success with both carpenter and tiny ants. However, we have no idea if this method would work on fire ants or other types of ants.

Here is how we adopted the method in the article.

Ant traps The first thing to be done is to prepare the containers. We prefer the small plastic tubs that take-out food restaurants use to hold salad dressings. They are about 2 1/2 inches in diameter at the top and approximately 1 1/2 inches at the bottom. The next size up is a container for potato salad or cole slaw for a take out order. The fall back position is a tub for butter or cottage cheese. Be sure to wash the container to avoid those wonderful spoiled food odors. Then cut four (4) openings at the major compass points on the bottom of the tubs. Each opening should be a little smaller than a garden pea at the widest point, big enough for the ants to enter. The lids should be retained and used to retard evaporation.

We purchased a 4 ounce bottle of boric acid powder for $1.79 at the local pharmacy. If all you are using boric acid for is to make ant traps, this maybe a lifetime supply. Sugar and water are the other two ingredients. The basic formula is:

1 teaspoon of boric acid powder
6 tablespoons of sugar
2 cups of water

We found that using hot water improved the dissolving time and effectiveness.

The original method used cotton balls to soak up the potent potion. However we liked using rolled absorbent cotton better. One can cut the width of the cotton to be approximately the height of the container. When this width is rolled, it produces a package that almost fills the container. And, as it starts to dry out, one can remove the lid and pour some more of the potion onto the rolled cotton. In this configuration, the cotton will absorb the fluid. Replacing the lid retards the evaporation rate.

We suggest that you use rubber gloves and/or tongs to handle soaking the cotton and placing it in the containers. With the boric acid this diluted, one should be able to handle it with bare hands. And, in this concentration, it should not kill birds and/or other pets (so we have been told). We prefer to err on the side of caution.

The last issue was to determine if the darn things worked. The goal is to have the ants eat our potion and take it back to the nest to feed the queen and kill the entire population. Place the tubs in the path of the ants so that they can be easily found. We used two tubs on the floor of the bird gym the first time and two tubs on the floor of the bird room the second time. In just an hour or two we began to see two streams of ants, one entering and one leaving, the tubs. When used with the small ants, these two lines of ants lasted almost three days and then disappeared. There must have been over a hundred ants at a time in these streams.

Start with the recommended concentration and wait three days. If no ants appear after that time, you did a good thing and it worked. If there are still a lot of ants, increase the amount of boric acid in the formula and try again.

A second formula we found for ants and roaches was: 3 cups of water, 1 cup of sugar, and 4 teaspoons of boric acid to be placed in small dishes or bottle caps. Notice that this is stronger than the basic formula we used. If at any time, you find dead ants around the traps, you did it wrong. The ants are dieing before they return to the nest. Reduce the amount of boric acid in the formula to allow the ants to take it home to the nest.

And relax, the ants are smaller than you and they don't have a union.