There are a lot of ways to keep bees and other flying insects from taking over hummingbird feeders that don’t involve pesticides. It’s important that hummingbirds are still able to safely use the feeders, so there are a few things you should avoid — but don’t worry, you can still give your hummingbirds a sweet treat they can enjoy free of competition.
Why are Bees Swarming my Hummingbird Feeder?
Hummingbirds and bees both love drinking sweet nectar — it’s their main food source. Bees and other insects can compete with hummingbirds for nectar. If there aren’t adequate sources of nectar in the area, they may turn to feeders to make up the deficit.
Hummingbirds and bees have different nectar needs though. Sugar solutions for hummingbirds should be 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, while bees need a 1-1 or even 2-1 sugar/water ratio. While bees may be attracted to your feeders, they aren’t likely meeting their needs.
Natural Ways to Keep Bees Away
Having your hummingbird feeder taken over by bees can be annoying for backyard bird watchers who want to see hummingbirds. But you don’t have to put up with it. Here are some natural ways to keep bees and other insects away from your feeder.
Select a Saucer-Type Hummingbird Feeder
There are two types of bird feeders. One has an inverted bottle design, while the other is attached to a saucer-shaped feeder at the base.
Inverted bottle designs drain and leak much faster during warm weather than saucer feeders do. And leaks attract more insects, which makes saucer feeders, not only less wasteful, but less likely to attract more bees.
Install Bee Guards
Bee guards are plugged into holes in your feeder to keep insects from reaching the nectar. If they can’t reach the nectar, they’ll eventually move on — but don’t worry, hummingbird will still be able to get to it. These plastic plugs can be purchased in most hardware stores.
Place the Feeder in a Dark, Shaded Area
Bees are attracted to flowers which usually require a certain amount of sunlight to bloom (six hours or more). If you hang your bird feeder next to a sunny spot where flowers bloom, you’re probably going to see more insect activity on your feeder.
To avoid this, hand your feeder in a shady area away from other blooming plants. Avoiding direct sunlight can also slow down the nectar’s fermentation process — fermented nectar is not good for hummingbirds.
Skip the Yellow-Colored Feeders
While there is no scientific explanation for this, several reports suggest that using yellow-colored feeders can attract more bees and other insects like wasps. Using red feeders might also help you avoid attracting bees and other insects.
Cultivate a Pollination Garden
Bees are beneficial and we need them to thrive and continue pollinating. If you provide alternative sources for nectar by planting flower beds, your bees may leave your feeder alone altogether.
Some of the best plants for a pollination garden include annuals such as impatiens and fuchsias. Planting perennials like bee balm, trumpet vine, and milkweed, which also attracts butterflies, will add some lovely blossoms to your garden while keeping pollinators happy.
You can plant many of these flowers in hanging baskets around your home or directly in the soil. And you may find that your hummingbirds enjoy your garden as much as your feeders.
Move the Feeder Occasionally
Moving your feeder every once in a while can keep bees and other insects, who will mark its location, from returning. It isn’t foolproof, but keeping insects guessing might help.
Reduce the Nectar’s Sugar Content
Bees are attracted to sugar, and artificial nectar with a high sugar content might tempt them away from your garden. And while too low a sugar content won’t provide adequate calories, too high a sugar content can actually harm hummingbirds.
In general, if you’re mixing your own nectar, use a ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. This will keep your hummingbirds happy without overdoing it and unnecessarily attracting bees, who like a 1-1 ratio of sugar to water.
Create a Honey Bee Feeder
During times of drought, flowers may not bloom in sufficient numbers to sustain your local bee population, forcing them to find alternative sources of food — like your hummingbird feeder. And since your bees are likely to outnumber your birds, they could out-compete your hummingbirds for the nectar you leave out.
But you can create a bee feeder to keep bees happy and fed during dry spells, which can help keep them out of your hummingbird feeders. Use a shallow dish or planter filled with stones, marbles, or gravel for the bees to land on. Fill the dish with a solution of 1 part sugar to 1 part water. You can also use a 2-1 ratio of sugar to water.
Bees need a much higher sugar content than hummingbirds do. If it’s available and where they’re likely to find it, they may leave your hummingbird feeder alone.
Maintain the Feeder’s Cleanliness
Always clean up all nectar spills around the feeder to avoid attracting bees. You should also replace broken parts and repair any cracked areas to keep nectar from leaking.
Keeping your feeder clean also keeps your hummingbirds safe from mold growth. You don’t want to make your resident birds sick.
What NOT to use to Keep Bees Away
Some things that will keep bees away can also harm hummingbirds. Here are a couple of things to avoid:
Insecticides can contaminate your nectar and make hummingbirds sick. Also, bees are already in danger of extinction. Any steps you take to keep bees away should be non-lethal.
Some people use various types of oils to ward off the bees, including olive oil, cooking spray, and other slippery substances like petroleum jelly. The problem is, these things can also affect hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds depend on clean feathers to rapidly fly from one flower to another. If their feathers are smeared with oil after brushing the feeder, their flight might be hampered.
How to Choose a Quality Hummingbird Feeder
There are a lot of options out there, including DIY feeders. But you should consider a few things when choosing your feeder.
Take a look a feeding ports. They need to be large enough for a humming bird to use, but small enough that bees can’t get in.
Your feeder also needs to be easy to clean. A dirty bird feeder can attract a lot of insects, especially if it’s leaking. Look for a feeder that’s easy to wipe down or wash. And make sure to clean your feeder at least twice a week to prevent mold growth, which can sicken hummingbirds.
Bees are a vital part of the ecosystem — they help in pollinating flowers and crops. That doesn’t mean you want them in your hummingbird feeders. But it is very important to use methods that don’t harm either the bees or hummingbirds. If removal is done properly, you can still observe hummingbirds while keeping bees away and safe.