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How to Provide Water For Bees In Your Backyard

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Water Sources for Bees

Honey bees will find water on their own but the quality may not be good. Providing water for bees is one way to be sure that they are drinking from a non-contaminated source. In fact, a clean water source is very beneficial for many pollinators. Whether you are a beekeeper, gardener or just a bee-lover, you can create a good water source for bees.

Honey bees gathering water for a simple water source image.

Having a clean water source for their beehives is especially important to beekeepers. Especially in situations where several hives are in one location, a close place to collect water is helpful.

Bees can be seen gathering water from a nearby stream or pond. While they will seek out natural sources-that doesn’t mean the water source is ideal.

Consider taking the time to established a suitable drinking spot for your colonies. They may not use it and sometimes it may seem that they prefer to drink from a nearby mud puddle.

But, foragers are less likely to come into contact with contamination by pesticides or other chemicals if they stay in your yard.

A consistent water source with a safe place to drink is especially important in warm months. In urban areas, good water can become more difficult to find. Runoff water is often contaminated with fertilizers and other lawn care products.

Of course, its not only beekeepers who want to help. Everyone can help pollinators by contributing in small ways.

Do you have a corner of your garden with room for a small pond of water feature? A creative water source can be a beautiful part of your bee friendly garden.

Honey bees collecting water from source image.

Why do Bees Need Water?

Honey bees visit millions of blooming flowers and to collect pollen and plant nectar. They use nectar to make honey and store it for use in Winter.

But, nectar is not the only liquid collected for foraging workers

Bees Use Water to:

  • dilute or thin honey for easier consumption
  • help control heat and humidity inside the hive

Inside the hive, water is used for several purposes in daily colony life. It is used to dilute honey (which is very thick) to make eating it easier.

And, water also plays a role in controlling the heat and humidity inside the hive. These living conditions are important to protect developing young or “brood”.

Worker bee collecting water image.

Water is Used for Air Conditioning

The honey bee colony also uses water for air conditioning purposes.  If the temperature in the hive became too hot, wax comb would sag and break.

Controlling internal hive temperature is vital for brood development. Overheating can cause the death of young. The temperature in the brood nest must stay between 91°F – 97°F.

When temperatures in the hive rise too high, the colony goes into action. Droplets of water are placed on the surface of the honey comb.  

Then, workers fan their wings to circulate air through the colony. Air passing over the water droplets has a cooling effect.   

This “social ventilation” with the use of water enables colony to keep temperatures in check. Not too hot, just the right temperature.

How Bees Collect Water

The colony does not store water inside the hive. At least, not in cells of honeycomb – as they do nectar, honey or pollen.

On any given day, a percentage of the workers in a colony will be in charge of collecting water. 

They fly to visit the water source.  With the same pumping action used to harvest nectar, the bee sucks up water.

Stored in the honey stomach, water is carried back to the hive. Once inside the hive, these bees travel around the hive giving water where it is needed. 

Creating Water Sources For Bees

There are several reasons that a beekeeper may desire to provide a bee waterer. But, it is not always necessary, they are pretty good at finding a drink.

However, we do not want them to expend tremendous amounts of energy to collect water from far away.

Open water sources may be contaminated with pesticides, herbicides or other substances that are bad for bee health.

In this case, a water source closer to the hive may encourage them to avoid drinking bad water. A lucky colony will find a natural stream nearby-but this is not always the case.

A natural stream in a forest image.

Keeping Bees Out of Neighbors Pool

One of the best reasons to provide water for your bees – your neighbor has a swimming pool !  (Be a good neighbor, citizen and beekeeper and try to keep your bees out of their swimming pool.

Bees will go to a nearby swimming pool. And, if your neighbors have a salt water pool – the bees seem to like it even better !

Pre-planning on the part of the beekeeper and understanding on the part of the pool owner can be a great asset. Have a water source in place (closer to the hive than the pool) before your bees arrive.

If the pool in question belongs to you, and the bees seem determined to go there. You might try to limit them to one edge of the pool.

Honey bees are not defensive when away from the hive. If they drink in one spot – you can enjoy the rest of the pool.

Bee water source made of barrel with drip plate image.

Water Sources Must be Dependable

A homeowner or gardener may want to provide a cute water source for area for pollinators. This can be an easy project. A simple as this clay pot bee water station.

Yes it is small but it is probably not the only source of water they are using. Refilling this daily in a shady often visited part of the yard is not too hard.

You are providing a nice cool “oasis” for them to enjoy while foraging. But the smaller it is – the more often you will need to fill it.

Small water sources are easy to create but they require more maintenance.  It takes some discipline to remember to check any small water source – every day or twice a day.

The same problems applies to small fountains, buckets, etc.  When hot weather arrives and your honey beehives really need more water, will you be able to remember to refill?

However, if you are a beekeeper with several hives containing 40,000 bees – Well, you have some important planning to do. Having a small dish of water outside is not enough.

Beekeepers develop some ingenious ways to provide water.  The use of a regular quart jar feeder placed on the front of the hive is popular. This is inexpensive and easy.  However, you must never let them run out.

Pink water lily in pond water for bees image.

A Beautiful Bee Water Station

Another way to provide drinking water for bees is with a water garden. I love mine and have had them for many years – even before I had honey bees.

This is something almost any homeowner or homesteader can do. A water garden does not have to be a half acre pond. A small pond of 100-200 gallons in size provides a lot of water.

Yes, you still have to manage the water level but it is a weekly chore rather than daily. This means less monitoring and maintenance.

A small pool with some plants and a few goldfish can be an educational and entertaining addition to any backyard. You could even jump in if you don’t mind swimming with the frogs and fishes.

Honey bee with proboscis extended into drinking water from pond image.

Water Garden Plants Will Also Provide Food

Being a lover of all plants (except maybe Kudzu), I have several water lilies in my gardens.  Each bloom is so beautiful and the honey bees do visit the blossoms ! 

Water gardens provide beauty in your landscape and allow your family to reconnect with nature. Each month there is something new happening out there.  

Honey bees are seen gathering water all year long on warm days.  And, you can also plant flowers that bees like around the pond area. Be sure to include a shallow place for the bees to drink without fear of drowning.

Final Thoughts on a Bee Water Source

Providing clean drinking water for bees can be fun and beautiful. Both small and larger features contribute to good pollinator health. Water is important to the honey bee colony. Healthy bees are productive bees.

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14 Comments

  1. Walter Scott says:

    Hi Charlotte,

    Should salt or minerals be added to the water source?

  2. Some beekeepers like to add a bit of salt ( or livestock salt to bee water). They feel it helps encourage the bees to revisit the water source. I’ve had friends that added a tablespoon of bleach! A little of either certainly would not hurt.

  3. I was wondering if you have ever observed your bees fighting over a water source? We have an existing hive that we have had for a year and just got 2 more nucs 2 weeks ago. We have plenty of watering areas around the yard for the bees, 4 of them right in our bee yard. For the past few days bees have been fighting with each other over water. Occasionally one will fly around to each bee in the watering station and shoo them away and even attempt to drag them out. Is this normal behavior?

  4. Tim Kaylor says:

    If you have an open water sources, how do you prevent mosquito infestations?

  5. Hi Tim, If it is a smaller container-you can dump it out occasionally. I keep a couple of goldfish in my small water gardens. I have also used those mosquito dunks with no apparent problems.

  6. How do you prevent the bees from taking over your bird baths?

  7. They are thirsty. Give them a better place to drink. A small water garden etc with a shallow end .

  8. How close should the water source you provide be to the beehive?

  9. As long as you do not have a swimming pool or water feature that you are keeping the bees away from – it does not have to be close. My water garden that the bees use is about 100 ft from the hives. However, during hot summer time there is a constant “bee highway” of traffic between the hives and the water garden. It’s okay to put water close to the hive if you want – but it is not required.

  10. I have a concrete tank with a float valve. Which way would be better to keep maintained, an aireator or goldfish?

  11. Mark Jacim says:

    Will bees drown if I just use a smooth plastic bowl for drinking water? I’m concerned about them slipping in and not being able to climb out due to the slick plastic.

  12. They could. Add some floating material or stones to provide safe drinking spots and they will be more likely to use the source.

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