Keep Bees Away From Your Hummingbird Feeder

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A challenge faced by many bird lovers – how to keep bees away from hummingbird feeders. It is not unusual to find bees visiting the feeder at certain times of the year. But, their presence disrupts the peaceful harmony and causes conflict for the birds and their human caretakers. However, there are some strategies one can use to lessen the conflict.

Two honeybees drinking from hummingbird feeder port image.

The good news is that the birds and bees can both enjoy visiting your bee garden. When conflict occurs, there are some things you can try to lessen the problem.

Why do Hummingbird Feeders Attract Bees?

Even though hummers are very tiny, they require a high energy food. Hummingbirds fly around the garden consuming sweet nectar from hundreds of blooming flowers. 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.

However, a blooming bush or shrub has many feeding stations (flowers) to visit – a feeder does not. So, this can cause a traffic jam between the bees and hummingbirds at the feeder.

When is the Bee Problem Most Likely to Occur?

Normally, having a few bees visit your hummingbird feeder is not a big problem. You may have the occasional bee or wasp stop by searching for sweet food. In most cases, it does not cause a big problem.

Honey bees drinking from a hummingbird feeder image.

However, 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.

Why is the conflict more of an issue in mid to late Summer? The most likely problem is because the amount of nectar available in flowers varies with plant bloom time and rainfall.

If weather conditions cause a lack of nectar (a dearth), bees become hungry. Starving insects are desperate and more likely to visit any type of sugary food source.

Imagine how pleased they are to find your feeder. Thankfully for most, this will not be a season long issue. If natural nectar sources improve, the bees will leave the hummingbird feeders.

Bees and wasps on hummingbird feeder image.

Stop Bees From Visiting a 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. But, here are some bee-friendly tips to keep bees away from your feeders:

  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 in feed
  10. Use bee repellant plants

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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 more 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 from feeders and outdoor areas. No access to sweet liquid.

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 more 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.

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.

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!

Remove Nearby Wasp Nests

Of course, it is not only honey bees that can be a problem. Wasps from nearby nests will come to your feeder. Remove these nests before they grow large. It is much easier to destroy a wasp nest than to remove a colony of honey bees.

Some homeowners use 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.

Create an Bee Feeding Station

Plant nectar is the best food for our winged pollinators. However, if all else fails, consider trying a bee watering 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.

Beekeepers may use a larger DIY bucket feeder for a large number of bees. Understand though, that this type of feeder attracts every sugar loving insect in the area – it should not be placed near the house.

Please do not attempt to feed bees honey as a lure. Honey can contain spores of bee diseases such as American Foulbrood that is harmless to humans but kills bee colonies. Yes, even honey from the supermarket is a bad idea.

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 that attract bees, 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.

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.

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.

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).

Humming bird drinking from feeder image.

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

Don’t resort to harsh chemicals or pesticides to get rid of bees on your hummingbird feeders. Using any type of repellent product on the feeder – can harm you and the birds too! Honestly, they are not very effective either.

Ants can also be a problem (ants can invade beehives too) 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!

Be careful that the measures you take don’t cause problems for other insects in the ecosystem. You may even harm the birds you are wanting to feed.

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.

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 hummingbirds eat bees?

Don’t think the birds are going to eat the intruders. While there are some birds that consume bees as part of their diet – hummingbirds do not eat bees.

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

A large number of thirsty insects can drain a full hummingbird feeder quickly.  A summer bee colony can have 30-60 thousands members.

Can the local beekeeper keep bees away from your feeder?

Beekeepers can not keep bees away from your hummingbird feeder. But sometimes, beekeepers can help to minimize the problem.
Providing sugar water for bees in times of serious nectar dearth, the colonies will be less desperate for food. This could result in fewer unwanted visitors at the feeder.

A Final Word

They say misery loves company. Well, I don’t know about that. But, if you are having problems with other bees visiting your hummingbird feeders, you are not alone. This is a common problem expressed by bird-loving homeowners each Summer.

Even in locations where bees are not normally a problem at hummingbird feeders, there will be that occasional year when there is a problem.

Often, the problem is temporary with bees returning to flowers after some rain occurs. 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 feeders will be birds.