If you love hummingbirds you may experience a problem keeping bees away from hummingbird feeders. This can be quite aggravating and leave you feeling unsure of what to do. Sometimes, you feel that you are feeding the hummingbirds and every other winged creature in the region. Is there anything you can do about this problem? Here are some tips to help keep bees off your hummingbird feeder.
Swarming Bees on Your Hummingbird Feeder
They say misery loves company. Well, I don’t know about that. But, if you are having problems with other insects visiting your hummingbird feeders, you are not alone. This is a common problem expressed by bird-loving homeowners each Summer.
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Honestly, it leaves many nature lovers in a quandary. They don’t want to harm the bees but they do wish they would go away. Also, many of these folks also loves bees and plant flowers to attract them.
A hummingbird feeder can still be part of a bee friendly garden you just need a plan. There are some strategies for this problem that you should avoid.
Don’t resort to harsh chemicals or pesticides to chase away the bees. Using any type of repellent product on the feeder – can harm you and the birds too! Honestly, they are not very effective at keeping the bees away either.
Ants can also be a problem as they try to secure the sweet sugar syrup. You can purchase “ant-guards – (also called ant moats)” or use some petroleum jelly on the hanger for ants. This wont work for honey bees of course – they fly!
Why do Hummingbird Feeders Attract Bees?
Even though hummers are very tiny, they require a high energy food. This is where sweet nectar comes into play.
The birds fly around the garden consuming nectar from hundreds of blooming flowers. You can find special seed mixes that produce flowers that attract hummingbirds in particular. Of course, they are not the only ones who crave sweet nectar.
Honey bees collect nectar to make honey. In the field, seeing the hummingbirds sharing nectar with bees and wasps is normal. There are many different blooms available and enough space for everyone to spread out.
Both may be seen visiting the nectar sources at the same time. However, a blooming bush has many feeding stations – a feeder does not.
Bees Can Be a Seasonal Problem
Normally, having a few bees visit your hummingbird feeder is not a big problem. And, the issue is not usually a problem for the whole season. Hummingbirds are not present all year – they arrive in late Spring.
The bee-bird conflict is more of an issue in mid to later Summer. Why? Because the amount of natural nectar available in flowers varies with plant bloom time and rainfall.
If weather conditions cause a lack of nectar, this is called a dearth. Starving insects are desperate and more likely to visit any types of sugary food source.
As sure as, July will bring hot humid weather in the south, it will also bring complaints from homeowners who are experiencing bees swarming at their hummingbird feeder. Thankfully for most, this will not be a season long issue but it is still a problem.
Expert Tips to Stop Bees Swarming the Hummingbird Feeder
This may sound too simplistic but it is the truth. The best way to keep bees from taking over your hummingbird feeder is to stop it before it starts.
It is much easier to prevent the problem-than fix it. Once they get tuned into a food location, it can be difficult to stop the behavior. Here are some tips to try:
- choose a hummingbird feeder with bee guards
- look for all red feeders – avoid the color yellow
- check for leaks – you need a good seal
- move feeder to a shady location
- eliminate nearby wasp nests
- create a bee feeding station (well away from your house) during times of drought
- plant more blooming flowers that pollinators love for food sources
- Peppermint Oil
- Use less sugar
- Use bee repellant plants
1. Bee Proof Feeders With Insect Guards
When buying hummingbird feeders, chose a style that has insect guards. Those shaped like saucers are nice but if they do not have bee guards – you may have problems.
With proper bee guards, the birds will be able to reach deep down to access the syrup with their long tongues. The insects will not be able to access the syrup.
If the insects can not reach the food, there is no reason for bees to swarm the feeder. In addition, You may be able to purchase bee guards for your existing saucer feeders. This is the most effective deterrent for keeping bees away.
2. Avoid Feeders with Yellow Inserts
Red attracts hummingbirds – yellow attracts insects. Common hummingbird feeders are red and yellow because that is a bright cherry combination. It looks attractive to the homeowner.
Insects are attracted to yellow so try to find a feeder that doesn’t have the bright yellow centers. Look for red hummingbird feeders with white or red feeding ports.
There are many elegant hummingbird feeder styles to choose from. If you already have a feeder with yellow feed ports, paint them red using non-toxic paint.
3. Check Feeder for Leaks
At the beginning of the season, check your hummingbird feeder for leaks. Even small drips of sugary syrup can attract bees and wasps.
If the drip persists, try using some plumber’s tape on the threads between the bottle reservoir and base. Use it only on the screw threads – do not let it be in contact with the liquid feed. And of course, avoid getting syrup on the outside of the feeder when refilling-rinse it off.
4. Hang Your Hummingbird Feeder in the Shade
Don’t worry about the birds finding your feeder. Hummingbirds will seek out the food source as they forage naturally in the yard.
Honey bees prefer food sources that in full sunlight. If you have several good spots to choose from, hang your hummingbird feeder a shaded area.
You can even enjoy feeding hummingbirds while on vacation in your RV or camper. Everyone loves a picnic!
5. Remove Wasp Nests
Of course, it is not only honeybees that can be a problem. Wasps from nearby nests will come to your feeder. Remove these nests before they grow large.
Some homeowners make a “fake wasp nest” to prevent the insects from building. Maybe you will have luck with that but it sure did not fool my wasps – LOL.
6. Create an Bee Feeding Station
Plant nectar is the best food for our winged pollinators. However, if all else fails, consider trying a bee feeding station (this one is for water but it would work as a sugar water feeder).
This is best used as a temporary solution. Make a mixture of sugar water – (2 parts white cane sugar dissolved in 1 part water) in a shallow dish or pan filled with marbles, gravel or stones (so no one will drown).
Place this feeder a short distance away from the bird feeders. The bees should move to the new food source as they prefer a sweeter solution.
Every day move the sugar water feeder a little farther away (do this very early in the morning or at night)- in time this should get them focused on something different than your bird feeder. Be cautious with this method as you may have a lot of bees visiting. Keep it away from human traffic etc.
7. Plant More Nectar Rich Flowers
It may not help this season but develop a plan for next year. Add some new flowers to the pollinator garden – sunflowers, bee balm or zinnia are good choices.
Choose landscape plants that bloom during the hot dry Summer. Drought tolerant flowers that bees love will help lure them to this natural food source.
Consider watering your flowering plants during the hot summer, to encourage even more nectar production. Choose many different types of flowers for bees that bloom at different times.
Annuals and perennials that provide food throughout the season. Stagger the bloom throughout the warm months. And don’t forget the Fall Blooming Flowers that begin in late Summer.
8. Use Peppermint Essential Oil on Feeder Ports
Some bird lovers report success by using a small dab of peppermint essential oil on their feeders. They say the birds don’t mind while the bees do not like the scent. It might be worth a try if all else has failed in your quest.
9. Use Less Sugar
The typical mixture for hummingbird feed is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. This is a bit below the preferred sweetness ratio for honey bees. If a problem continues, experiment with making the sugar syrup just a bit less sweet.
10. Use Bee Repelling Plants
This idea will not work for those of you that hang your feeders up high. But, if you have some of the low hanging bird feeders, choose some plants that help repel bees for planting nearby. For minor problems, you might place some of these in hanging baskets near your feeder (mints, eucalyptus).
Be Careful With Insect Traps
There are some types of traps that catch insects such as wasps and hornets. Be careful using these. You will never catch all the insects visiting your feeder but you can harm local bee populations.
Be sure to use a lure for yellow jackets that is not attractive to honey bees. Most commercial and homemade yellow jacket traps are not dangerous for honey bees. Avoid those that use sweet syrup as the attractant.
Things You Should Never Do
- do not spray insecticide or other poisons on the feeder
- do not smear oil and other toxic substances on feeder ports
These types of measures rarely work well and cause problems for other insects in the ecosystem. You may even harm the birds you are wanting to feed.
Even in locations where bees are not normally a problem at hummingbird feeders, there will be that occasional year when there is a problem.
Any location in the grips of a drought may experience a time of nectar dearth. In this case, the problem may be temporary with insects returning to flowers after some rain occurs.
While we all want to enjoy watching the birds drink the food provided – please remember that the honey bee means no harm – she is just trying to survive too! Hopefully conditions will improve and the only visitors at your backyard hummingbird feeders will be birds.
No, hummingbirds are not afraid of bees. A few insect visitors will not prevent your birds from visiting. However, they find it to frustrating to fight thousands of bees to reach the sweet food. A large enough swarm of bees on the feeder may keep the hummers away.
A large number of thirsty insects can drain a full hummingbird feeder quickly. Don’t think the birds are going to eat the intruders. While there are some birds that consume bees as part of their diet – this is not true for hummers.
Beekeepers can not keep bees away from your hummingbird feeder. We can not keep bees from flying wherever they want.
But sometimes, beekeepers can help to minimize the problem. By feeding hungry colonies in times of serious nectar dearth, the colonies will be less desperate for food. This could result in fewer unwanted visitors at the feeder.