Bird feeders and baths are common features in the yards of nature enthusiasts, and few birds are so well-loved as the hummingbird. These bright, dainty birds not only look like backyard fairies flitting among the flowers, but they are also important pollinators that can encourage your plants to bloom and fruit.
Another vital pollinator is the bee but, unfortunately, they’re not always compatible with hummingbirds, as they compete with the birds for food sources. Bees are as fond of the sweet sugar solution used to fill hummingbird feeders as the hummers are, and will often guzzle it down at a surprising rate. Fortunately, there are several easy steps you can try to bee-proof your hummingbird feeder and encourage the bugs to go elsewhere.
Why are bees attracted to hummingbird feeders?
Like hummers, bees drink nectar and are strongly attracted to the sweet sugar solution used to feed hummingbirds. Other insects with a sweet tooth include wasps, hornets, ants, spiders, moths, and earwigs. Without any protection from these bugs, your hummingbird feeder can quickly become a magnet for swarms of hungry (and sometimes stinging) insects.
Not only do these pests drink up all the nectar and leave your hummingbirds hungry, but large numbers of bugs can mean hummingbirds stop visiting the feeder altogether.
How to keep bees off your hummingbird feeder
Keeping insects off your hummingbird feeder can restore harmony between the birds and the bees, leaving the hummers free to drink while the bees go back to their natural food sources. So, how can you keep bees away from your hummingbird feeder?
Plant more flowers around your yard
Bees are more likely to invade your hummingbird feeder if there is a scarcity of other food sources, i.e. nectar.
If your garden is lacking in blooms, growing more floral plants is a great way to provide an alternative (and more natural) food source for your bees.
This means that any bees that come into your garden will be quickly occupied with what they do best: pollinating!
Planting more flowers will not only reduce the number of bugs on your feeder but can bring more color and vibrancy to your garden, too.
Choose a saucer-shaped hummingbird feeder
Anti-insect feeders are specifically designed to keep birds and other bugs away from your hummingbird’s nectar. One popular version is the saucer-shaped feeder, which is shaped to position the nectar inside away from the feeding port. Hummingbirds, with their long, specially adapted tongues, are still able to reach the sugar syrup, but insects won’t be able to get at it.
Get a bee guard for your hummingbird feeder
A bee guard can be an effective way to keep bees off your hummingbird feeder. These small meshes can be fitted over feeding port, where they create a bee barrier that stops the insects from getting inside. The holes in bee guards are large enough to allow a hummingbird to poke their tongue through, however, so they won’t stop the birds from getting at the syrup. When picking out a bee guard, remember to avoid choosing one in yellow, as this color is thought to attract more bees.
There is some evidence to suggest that bees are attracted to the color yellow, so keeping this in mind when you pick out your hummingbird feeder is a good idea. Hummingbirds, however, are drawn to the color red, so choose a red feeder to attract more birds and fewer bees.
Reduce the sugar content of your nectar
Bees are preferentially attracted to nectar with a high sugar content so, if the stuff in your feeder is sickly-sweet, you may be needlessly tempting them over. If you have a regular problem with bees taking over your hummingbird feeder, try reducing the amount of sugar you use in your syrup to dissuade them.
Move your feeder frequently, and stick to shady spots
Bees will usually feed only on convenient food sources and won’t waste too much time searching for your feeder if you move it. Hummingbirds, on the other hand, will frequently visit a good food source when they find one, and will even look around for other nearby food sources.
Regularly relocating your hummingbird feeder could be the simplest way to bamboozle your bees, while making sure it’s still accessible for your hummers. When hanging your hummingbird feeder, it’s advisable to choose shady spots. Insects, including bees, are able to regulate their body temperature more effectively in open areas than in the shade and are less likely to visit shady feeders as a result.
How not to keep bees off your hummingbird feeder
Don’t use insecticides
It may be tempting to dump a bunch of pesticides into your hummingbird feeder and kill all the bees; please don’t. Not only are bees endangered and protected (and as the key pollinators of a huge percentage of the world’s crops, they damn-well should be) but you’re likely to poison your hummers, too.
To avoid creating your own mini mass-extinction in your backyard, refrain from using any toxic chemicals on or around your hummingbird feeders.
Encouraging hummingbirds in your garden can be a great way to brighten the place up and boost biodiversity. However, hummers aren’t the only creatures attracted to the sweet, sugary syrup used to fill hummingbird feeders.
Bees (and a wide variety of other insects) are also strongly attracted to hummingbird feeders. When large numbers of bees and other bugs start to congregate, this can contaminate feeders and even deter hummingbirds from visiting them altogether.
Fortunately, reducing the number of bees on your hummingbird feeders is fairly simple. Choosing insect-proof designs, moving your feeder frequently and providing an alternative food source for bees are all effective ways to keep the insects away from your feeders. You can also try reducing the amount of sugar you use in your syrup, avoiding feeders in the color yellow and placing your feeders only in shady spots. Just remember; insecticides are never the answer when you’re dealing with beneficial insect species like bees.