How to Provide Water For Bees In Your Backyard

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Water Sources for Bees

Providing water for bees is one way to be sure that they are drinking from a non-contaminated source. Bees will find water on their own but the quality may not be good. A clean water source is very beneficial for many pollinators not just honey bees . In fact, a creative water source can be a beautiful part of your bee friendly garden.

picture of honey bees drinking water

Most beekeepers understand the importance of  a good, clean water source for their beehives. This is especially notable in situations where there are several hives.

Bees can be seen gathering water from a nearby stream or pond and will seek out natural sources but that doesn’t mean the water source is ideal for your bees.

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

Of course, its not only beekeepers who want to help bees. Everyone can contribute in small ways to help pollinators. Do you have a corner of your garden with room for a small pond or water feature?

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 for bees to find. Runoff water is often contaminated with fertilizers and other lawn care products.

pictures of honey bees drinking water from various sources

Why do Bees Need Water?

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

But nectar is not the only liquid collected for foraging honey bees.  A bee colony needs water too.  

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 baby bees or “brood”.

picture of a honey bee drinking water

Bees Use Water 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 baby bees.

Worker bees must keep the brood nest temperature between 91°F – 97°F.

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

Then, worker bees 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 honey bees to keep the temperatures of the colony in check. Not too hot, just the right temperature for developing bees.

image of free offer for secrets of successful beekeeping ebook

How Bees Collect Water

Honey bees do not store water inside the hive. At least, not in cells of honeycomb that they build – as they do nectar, honey or pollen.

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

The worker bees 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 water-filled worker 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, bees are pretty good at finding a drink.

However, we do not want the bees 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 bees to avoid drinking bad water.

Lucky bees will find a natural stream nearby but this is not always the case.

picture of a natural stream in a forest

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 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.

In another post, I give more tips on ways to get rid of bees at the pool.

Animal Saving Escape Ramp for PoolAnimal Saving Escape Ramp for PoolAnimal Saving Escape Ramp for Pool


Water Sources for Bees Must be Dependable

If you are providing a cute water source for area bees and butterflies, that’s an easy project. It is probably not the only source of water they are using.

A small feature will be great. 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.

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.

Beehive Entrance Feeder, WhiteBeehive Entrance Feeder, WhiteBeehive Entrance Feeder, White


Beekeepers have developed several ingenious ways to provide water.  Some beekeepers use the common quart jar feeder that is placed on the front of the hive. This is inexpensive and easy.  However, you must never let them run out.

Bee water sources do not have to be directly next to the hive. Let’s remember that bees can fly.

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?

A Beautiful Bee Water Station

image of pink water lily in pond water for bees

You may decide to add a water garden to your backyard. I love water gardens 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 water garden of 100-200 gallons in size provides a lot of water to thirsty bees.

Yes you still have to manage the water level but it is a weekly chore rather than daily. This mean less monitoring and maintenance for the homeowner or beekeeper.

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.

image of honey bee with proboscis extended into drinking water

Water Garden Plants Will Also Provide Food For Bees

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.  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. Providing a good clean source of water for bees can be fun and beautiful.

Beekeeper Charlotte

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  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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