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10 Top Tips For Keeping Bees Away From A Hummingbird Feeder

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

Two honeybees drinking from hummingbird feeder port image.

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!

Humming bird drinking from feeder image.

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.

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Honey bees drinking from a hummingbird feeder image.

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.

Bees and wasps on hummingbird feeder image.

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:

  1. choose a hummingbird feeder with bee guards
  2. look for all red feeders – avoid the color yellow
  3. check for leaks – you need a good seal
  4. move feeder to a shady location
  5. eliminate nearby wasp nests
  6. create a bee feeding station (well away from your house) during times of drought
  7. plant more blooming flowers that pollinators love for food sources
  8. Peppermint Oil
  9. Use less sugar
  10. 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.

Honeybees swarming hummingbird feeder with yellow inserts image.

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.

FAQs

Are hummingbirds afraid of bees?

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.

Do bees drink a lot of food from the bird feeders?

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.

Can the local beekeeper keep bees away from your feeder?

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.

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22 Comments

  1. Katrina Butler8 says:

    If honey bees are gathering syrup at abundant hummingbird feeders in the neighborhood, then bringing it home to the hive in our yard, how will this affect the honey. We have a friend you said that if they put sugar syrup into the supers that we cannot sell it as “Pure Honey” and that if someone with a cane sugar allergy eats the “tainted” honey they could have a serious allergic reaction. Is this true? If so, what can we do with the nearly 200 pounds of honey we’ve gathered, and partially bottled. Must we have a disclaimer? “May contain traces of can sugar.” What? I’m a little freaked.

  2. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Yes, if a beekeeper is feeding their bees while honey collection supers are on (and you never should), the “honey” that the bees make will not be real honey. It will lack the enzymes found in plant nectar and have a different PH. Now as to the question of hummingbird feeders, I truly doubt it would make any difference. I mean if you have 100 hummingbird feeders and no wild nectar – you might have an issue. However, as long as you didnt feed your bees during the harvest, I would not worry. Even if a tiny amount was in there – its no different than bees that will inspect soft drink cans. I see no need for a disclaimer because you dont know there is a problem. Anytime, you sell or give away a food product – you have liability. If they cut their lip on the jar, or have a reaction to pollen in the honey but that very rarely happens with honey.

  3. Mary Hill Gary says:

    Would hurricane Florence have affected the honey bees in my neighborhood? Lots of beekeepers in my area. Honeybees are swarming my humming bird feeders. Never happened at this level before.

  4. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Absolutely, if the wind blew all the nectar producing blooms off the trees, weeds or bushes.

  5. Karol Holloway says:

    I read that marbles can burn bees and hummingbirds. The source recommended using pinecones as a non reflective idea. My desire to keep wasps and bees away from my hummingbird feeders is a purely selfish reason, I must carry an Epinephrine pin with me at all times. I try not tonaggravate the bees whenever I can. We depend on our pollinators!

  6. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    I supposed that might be a problem in a very hot region in direct sun..but I’ve never heard of anyone having the problem. Yes, honeybees are pretty harmless as long as you stay away from the hive and dont threaten them.

  7. Hello Ms. Bee Keeper,

    Thank you for this article! Just this week I noticed honey bees on my hummie feeders. Many of our hummies have left, but I still have one who depends on my feeders. Yesterday the bees began to swarm around the feeders, and the hummie could not find a place to feed that did not have bees.

    I put a pan of very sugary water with sticks in it (for the bees to climb on) on a yellow overturned pot about five yards from the feeders. The bees discovered it today; the pan was covered with literally hundreds of bees all day! Eventually most of the honey bees left the hummie feeders and joined their buddies on the sticks in the pan. My hummie had his feeder again.

    So here is the problem. This evening I checked the pan and all the sugar-water is gone. Now I am wondering if the bees will start depending on my sugar-water pan for nectar. I want to keep them happy during our next few days of sunshine, but I want to do the right thing for them also. Only a few flowers are still blooming in my garden — coral vine and a few roses — so the poor little bees seem desperate. I live in a very rural, forested area. Should I continue to feed the bees? Is this ethical and good for them? I want to make sure I am doing the right thing or if it would be better not to refill the pan. I will relocate my hummingbird feeders for now. Am I doing the right thing for the bees?

    Thanks again for this article — timely and interesting! I use honey from local bee keepers every day and support pollinators with many different flowers in my garden. However, after this experience I think I need to plant more flowers that bloom through the fall. I had no idea our bees are so desperate this time of year!

    Best,
    A Concerned Bee Lover

  8. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Oh, what a wonderful experience. Bees arent lazy, when natural nectar is available they will choose that first. As long as you can place the feeding station far enough away to not be problem, it does no harm. Pure cane sugar with water in a 1:1 ratio works well. Thank you for helping the bees 🙂

  9. Jon Bayer says:

    Great article and helps a lot. I have hummingbird feeders and a natural hive that adopted a 55 gal barrel that I had drilled holes in for composting. I have schools close by so I don’t brag about my hive. Your statement that says bees are hard workers and won’t use sugar water when natural nectars are available makes me feel better. I also read that too much sugar is bad for the hive. I only have 25 bees or so at one time at my hummingbird feeders so the hummingbird can still eat. You gave 2 different recipes for bee water 2:1 and 1:1. Is the 2:1 to attract them away from the hummingbird feeder and is ok to leave sugar out for the bees in the middle of summer.

  10. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Because 2:1 is sweeter… the bees are probably at your feeder because they are not finding anything better. Giving them an option somewhere near but not ON your feeder might help lure them away. Also, if weather allows another natural source may become available in a few weeks and they will go to that.

  11. Ann Ibler says:

    I am in Minnesota, and have had hummingbird feeders for years. In the last week, hundreds of honeybees have taken over the feeders! This has never happened before. My yard is very bee friendly, and is jam packed full of flowers. We have had a very wet summer here, so the bees have lots of sources of natural nectar. Today, I tried your suggestion of 2:1. The bees loved it, and went a little crazy. I had to put up several to get all the bees away from the feeders, and had to refill them after a few hours. A few questions. Can I pick stones up off the ground and put them in the bee feeders so the bees don’t drown, or do I need to wash the stones first? Silly question, but I don’t want to make the bees sick! Should I try to use a 1:1 solution tomorrow, since they have found their own feeders? If this feeding frenzy continues for days or weeks, and I have to keep feeding the bees to keep them off the hummingbird feeders, will it hurt the bees? Thanks so much for your article and help! My neighborhood hummingbirds thank you also!

  12. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    That fine you dont have to be to concerned. My bees sometimes drink out of mud puddles near the barn.

  13. Sarah Nichols says:

    i have the humming birds feeders with bee guard but it doesn’t stop them

  14. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Hmmm, can you move the feeders? Are these honeybees? Often their tongues are not long enough to access through good nectar guards.

  15. Jill Brown says:

    I am having a terrible time. Bees have swarmed my feeders. I have tried all different types of feeders. I tried bee repellent, moving the feeders, blasting them with water. I have throughly washed the feeders, in sun in shade. Nothing has worked. I am trying the yellow bowl with 1-1 recipe right now.

  16. Charlotte Anderson says:

    I so sorry to hear this Jill. The bees are hungry – of course, I know this doesnt help the problem you are having. Thousands of hungry bees are going to hard to deter from a sugar water source. Be sure to put something in the bowl so the bees wont drown. I hope you live in an area that has a Fall flow of nectar – if so hopefully the bee girls will turn their attention to that soon.

  17. I. Schlueter says:

    I was toldnot to give bees, sugar water, just plain water to drink. If they get sweet water, they don’t have to pollinate. Which is true, sugar water or plain water. Plain water just to revive tired bees. Thank You

  18. Charlotte Anderson says:

    That is not true. Bees are not lazy they search out the best nectar source. Now if you had a large feeder of rich sugar water out all season long and never let it go empty – pollination in your nearby orchard might be reduced. It is possible the bees gathering nectar “might” visit your source instead of the trees. However, I have never had my bees choose sugar water over natural nectar. Also, since they need pollen too – to raise young, they would still do some pollination. Is sugar the best for them? No. But in a situation of need – a little is just fine.

  19. Lynn Schmidt says:

    The bees swamped three hummingbird feeders so I placed an open dish of 1/1 sugar water a distance away for the bees. It has been extremely dry here in St. Louis so I assumed a dearth. They told all their friends, so I had multiple hundreds visiting all day.
    Problem is, as soon as they run out of syrup and I step outside, they come and fly around me, circle my head, land on my glasses, walk up my sleeves etc. They empty three dishes in about 20 minutes. I was attempting some yard work yesterday and they eventually drove me back inside. OK, I can live like this for a bit, but my concern is that they will do the same to my neighbors who may flap and swat and end up getting injured. So I stopped feeding the bees this morning. And I feel really guilty. Any advice?

  20. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Don’t feel guilty – it is nature. But, they will likely return to your feeders. Nothing will change their need for food until natural nectar becomes available. Putting out a bit of food for them is a good idea – if you enjoy it and if you have a space – far away from your home and outdoor active space.

  21. Evy Boutwell says:

    I’m so glad to find this article, as I just discovered that bees are drinking the nectar from a hummingbird feeder, that have “bee guards”. I have blooming flowers around the corner of my house, so i’m going to add a small amount of nectar to a different feeder, to see if the bees can “find” the blooming flowers. This is pretty new to me, so I really appreciate everyone’s input.

  22. Charlotte Anderson says:

    That is a good plan to try Evy. Two things to keep in mind. Bees look for the “best” food source. If your sugar water is sweeter than that in the flowers – they may not choose the flowers over the feeder. Second, blooms don’t always mean nectar is present. Your flowers may be in a dearth period.

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