Spring and summertime can bring beautiful pollinators to your landscaping and flowers, such as butterflies and hummingbirds.
Bird feeders are a great way to bring even more nature to your yard. Unfortunately, feeders, such as those for hummingbirds, can invite in other unwanted guests.
Hummingbird feeders attract bees and other insects. Hummingbirds and bees each obtain nectar nutrition from flowers as a food and energy source. Since the sugar water in hummingbird feeders mimics nectar, it will attract bees as well. Bees use nectar water as a food source and as an ingredient for making honey.
This article will provide more detailed information about why bees are attracted to hummingbird feeders, as well as ways to encourage them to stay away.
Bees’ Attraction To Hummingbird Feeders
Bees visit hummingbird feeders to obtain a source of nectar for food and to create honey for winter feeding.
Nectar provides energy as a food source to fast-flying creatures such as hummingbirds and bees.
Nectar comes from plants as they undergo photosynthesis using carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight. This process creates sugar-water nutrition that flows through the plant to feed its roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and fruit.
Excess nectar is secreted in the base of flowers (a nectary organ), this is where hummingbirds, bees, and other insects such as ants and wasps can enjoy the sweet food. Bees also use it as an ingredient for making honey.
Finding Nectar: Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds are attracted to red or orange colors, using both vision and taste to find nectar sources.
These bright colors in flowers have higher sugar content than other flowers. This is why hummingbird feeders are often red.
Hummingbirds are nectarivorous birds. They have a forked tongue with hair-like protrusions (lamellae) that extend to trap nectar in the tongue and pull it into the narrow beak.
Finding Nectar: Bees
Bees use eyesight and electrostatic fields to find nectar sources. A scouting bee can detect and see a variety of wavelengths, including ultraviolet patterns that other creatures cannot see on flowers.
Then as bees approach the flower or nectar zone, their smell reception transmits information.
Bees can also detect weak electrostatic fields (negative charge) coming from the flowers. Combined, bees are effective at finding nectar-rich sources, including hummingbird feeders.
They then communicate with other bees by performing a “dance” to inform them of the direction and distance of a nectar source.
While nectar from natural sources such as flowers is preferred by bees, if food sources are low, the hummingbird feeder is an excellent opportunity for food.
Bees suck nectar from sources with a proboscis, a straw-like tongue. Excess nectar is stored in the bee’s stomach and taken to the hive.
Bee Transfer Of Nectar
As worker bees forage for nectar they consume some of it and store the rest in their abdomen.
Enzymes in the bee’s stomach turn nectar into a diluted form of honey, removing excess water.
The worker bee passes the nectar to a younger house bee via their mouths.
The house bees transfer the nectar to the colony’s honeycomb storage. The bees flap their wings to dry it out with a warm breeze, thus creating the sticker honey substance.
Honey is stored as a winter food source for the colony of bees.
13 Tips For Keeping Bees Away From A Hummingbird Feeder
Hummingbirds consume a lot for their high caloric needs. Competing bees and other insects will not bother the hummingbirds at the feeder.
However, if a lot of insects are feeding on it, they can contaminate the water, making it less desirable to the hummingbirds.
There are safe ways to keep the insect population down at hummingbird feeders without posing any risk to the birds.
Using traps, oils, pesticides, and insecticides can be harmful to hummingbirds and other pollinators, which can then negatively impact the environment.
1. Bee Guard
You can buy a commercial hummingbird feeder that has a bee guard already on it.
If not, you can install a mesh around the feeding ports that allow the hummingbird’s long beak and tongue to get to the nectar.
This video shows hummingbirds drinking in slow motion:
2. Color And Ports
Hummingbirds prefer red, while bees prefer yellow. Choose an all-red feeder without any yellow accents. Due to their type of eyesight, red looks black to bees, signaling danger.
Additionally, a red hummingbird feeder with ports positioned away from the nectar or with moats, makes it more difficult for bees to access the nectar.
3. Partially-Shaded Feeder
Bees prefer nectar sources in the warm sun and are more likely to seek warm, sunlit sources before shaded ones. Warmed hummingbird feeders can also expand the parts, allowing leaks of nectar to come out of the ports.
Hummingbirds may have trouble locating a fully-shaded feeder, unable to find the red color. So opt for a partially-shaded one away from the full heat of the sun.
Cooler-temperature feeders also protect the nectar from fermenting, keeping it safer for consumption.
4. Bee Feeder Diversion
If bees are getting into the feeder, place a bowl on the ground with a 2-parts sugar to one-part water mixture.
Once the bees find this source, move the bowl to a sunny spot farther away from the feeder.
Slowly decrease the amount in the bowl, and hopefully, the bees move onto another natural source, such as flowers.
5. Bee Bath Diversion
Bees also need water and will visit shallow bird baths.
Place pebbles or small stones inside a small bowl or bird bath placed far away from the feeder in the sun. Bees will rest on the stones and drink the water.
However, if a bird bath is attracting too many bees to your yard, consider removing it.
6. Feeder Relocation
Once hummingbirds start visiting the hummingbird feeder, they also scan nearby for other food sources in proximity.
Therefore, you can move a feeder around your yard to different locations every few days. Moving it only 3 or 4 feet each time creates confusion for bees.
7. Feeder Decoys
Use an additional hummingbird feeder that is just for bees. Make sure it does not have a bee guard on it.
Create a sweeter concentration by adding more sugar than you do for the hummingbird one. This would be a ratio of 2-parts water to 1-part sugar.
Place this one in the sun and your hummingbird one partially in the shade at a distance from each other.
8. Reduce The Sweetness
The more sugar, the more desired the water is to bees.
You can reduce how sweet the hummingbird’s nectar is by making 5-parts water to 1-part sugar ratio (standard is 4 to 1).
9. Wasp Nest Decoys
Wasps, bees, and yellow jackets are territorial, indistinctly building away from other colonies.
Commercial-made wasp nest decoys can be hung up to give the impression a hive has moved in. This can help to deter bees from using your feeder as a food source.
While some insects, such as yellow jackets, build near the ground, you can place several decoys at various heights around your yard, hanging them from porch posts, tree branches, and so on.
This should be done in early spring when bees are looking to form hives or nests. This decoy will not work in all cases and should be used in conjunction with other strategies.
10. Stop Feeder Leaks
If your hummingbird feeder is leaking, it will attract bees and other insects to the ground underneath it.
Make sure all parts of the feeder are securely tightened. Plumber’s tape can be used on any threads to tighten the seal and minimize leaking.
If there are any cracks or irreparable damage, replace the feeder with a new one.
11. Clean The Feeder
Hummingbirds can drip nectar onto the surface of the feeder when eating. Air pressure can also force nectar out of the slots due to the air pressure inside.
When the feeder needs to be refilled with nectar water, clean it first. Clean both the outside and inside with a warm soapy water solution.
Rinse it clean and allow it to dry before refilling.
If bees are a constant problem, clean the feeder daily.
12. Pollinator Garden
Both hummingbirds and bees are pollinators. Bees in particular are responsible for pollinating flowering plants, which includes about ⅓ of the plants needed for food sources, such as fruits, vegetables, coffee, and spices.
Plant annuals and perennials that have blooms and flowers for bees to pollinate and retract nectar from.
Choose plants that stagger in blooming throughout the season to keep the bees busy. Opt for plants that bloom in yellow.
13. Remove Other Attractive Sources
Bees are also attracted to uncovered trash, manure, sticky beverage cans, and so on.
Keep any garbage covered and away from your home.
Clean up pet and animal feces with plastic bags and discard them in a covered container.
Hummingbird feeders attract bees since they contain sugar water, much like the nectar they obtain from flowers.
Bees use the sugar water nutritionally for energy as well as to create honey for winter feeding.
Homeowners can take steps to reduce the likelihood of bees around hummingbird feeders.
These include creating bee decoys and diversions and altering the sweetness of the sugar water.
People can also use red hummingbird feeders with bee guards, remove other sources of attractors such as manure or trash, and clean the feeder regularly, inspecting it for leaks.