You love them and you hate them. Bees are fabulous pollinators and we depend on them for the fruits and vegetables we need. But please, bees – get your sugar from flowers, not our hummingbird feeders!
To tempt and keep bees away from your hummingbird feeders, you need a multi-directional approach:
1. You should consider permanently or temporarily (until the bees forget where you are) using saucer feeders rather than vacuum feeders. The nectar level in saucer feeders is below the port where short bee tongues can’t reach it. You have to keep the lids clean, though, or even the little bit of nectar that the hummers leave on the ports will be enough to satisfy the bees. With vacuum feeders the nectar level is even with the port, so the bees can get to it easily. More than once I have had to temporarily switch the vacuum feeders on the webcam to saucer feeders. Bees have short memories and will forget where you are after a couple of days.
2. Color control is important. Bees see color very differently than we do. They are red/green colorblind, so they cannot see red. Blue is their favorite color, and yellow looks like blue to them. So what do those yellow flowers on the hummingbird feeders look like? Bulls-eyes. All they see are big blue dots on a green background. If you are not bothered by bees those feeders are fine. But if you live near beehives, I would lose the yellow flowers.
4. Bees need water to cool the hive and thin the honey. Many bees will visit the feeders because they need the water rather than the nectar, so giving them their own water dishes will satisfy the ones looking for water. I realized that this was true when I saw that a wet sponge I had on the outside counter was loaded with bees. I put out dishes filled with water and stones (so the bees have a place to land) and the bees were landing on the stones rather than on the feeders. This actually works.
5. Bees prefer to feed in direct sunlight and will shun a food source in the shade if they have one in the sun. Hang a feeder in a shady spot while you are training your bees to plants and water dishes.
6. Plant things that bees love. Bees like tiny flowers with a higher sugar concentration. If there are plenty of those flowers are around, the bees will be too preoccupied with the flowers they love and they will not even think about going to your feeders. Plants with tiny flowers like marjoram, thyme, oregano and rosemary attract them. Plus you can have fresh herbs for your kitchen. They also love lavender.
Now that you have a list of do’s, here are the don’ts. DO NOT put any kind of oil on the feeders. The hummingbirds physically come in contact with the feeders all the time when they squabble around them. The oil sticks to their feathers and interferes with their flight and temperature regulation at night. If you love your hummers, don’t do anything to hurt them! Also, absolutely DO NOT put permethrin on the feeders. This will not hurt the birds, but it is deadly to the bees and they will take it back to the hive and kill others along with them. I actually saw this on a hummingbird site and was positively stunned!
Bees and hummingbirds are both important pollinators. They have been sharing food sources for eons. The birds don’t get stung and the bees will share. They will not try to drive the birds away (as will wasps) so the best approach is to provide food for all!
Carole Studio City, CA
Featured photo at top by Ivar Leidus/Wikimedia Commons