Is there a way to feed wild bees?

It’s my turn to ask questions, and I have a few of them lined up. This first one just came from a reader in Texas (Mike) and I don’t have an answer for him.

Because Texas is having such a terrible drought, the wild bees are finding little to eat–a situation that doesn’t bode well for the overwintering young (generally, they each need a little pile of nectar and pollen) or the overwintering queens.

Mike put out hummingbird feeders and is attracting nothing but–you guessed it–hummingbirds. This is odd in a way because lots of beekeepers complain about honey bees frequenting hummingbird feeders and even storing pink “honey” in their combs. [Commercial hummingbird food is often colored red.]

Most bees are attracted to food sources by both sight and scent. Sight first, until they get close, and then scent. So if the hummingbird feeder is a color the bees don’t see, it probably wouldn’t attract bees as readily as one they can see. Also, different bees see slightly different parts of the spectrum. Honey bees, for example, don’t see red (it appears black to them) but they do see ultraviolet. I don’t know which colors other bees are sensitive to, although I often see bumble bees on red flowers. Whether the bumble bees found them by color or scent, I don’t know.

As with any other “open” food source a hummingbird feeder may attract predators (wasps) as well as bees, but apparently that is not a problem for Mike who is attracting nothing but hummingbirds.

My “feeding” of wild bees has been limited to planting flowering species they seem to like. I’ve never considered feeding them beyond that, but in such a severe drought, I can certainly understand the desire to lend them a hand. Does anyone have any experience feeding wild bees? Please send me your thoughts.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite.com

Comments

Max
Reply

No experience, and open feeding is generally considered bad . . .

but taking some of the words of advise I got from a course I did, and using them in reverse;

We were told if we ever had problems with bees raiding our bird feeders, the trick was to lower the sugar concentration, and eventually you will get a mix that the birds are still interested in, but the bees aren’t interested in. So I guess the reverse is probably the same, if you want the bees to be interested, but they aren’t, maybe trying to increase the sugar concentration of your feed.

Also, generally syrup doesn’t have much of a scent, so we were told if we were trying to attract bees up to our top feeders, but they weren’t noticing them, to pour a little down into the hive. While you can’t do this, you can try to add a little scent to the mix, by maybe adding some wax or honey to it. Once again feeding honey to bees other than the ones which produced it isn’t recommended, but if that is your goal, maybe a little honey in the feed may help attract more bees.

Rusty, you’re approach of planting bee friendly plants is the better solution, but I guess that is kind of more long term.

If Mike is worried about the bees, maybe he could just run a few more boxes of bees in the area instead. Then they will be managed, and he can feed them as much as he likes the conventional ways. If he isn’t a beekeeper, maybe he’d be willing to host a couple of hives if he doesn’t want to do it himself.

Cheers

Max
Dunedin, New Zealand.

Mike
Reply

Thank you Rusty,

Hopefully, someone out there has had experience or at least some ideas about this.

Mike

Gigi VanCleave
Reply

I feed grape jelly to the Orioles. Wild bees took over the plate of jelly the beginning of September. Now they have taken over the hummingbird feeder.

Athena Rayne Anderson
Reply

Hi Rusty (and Mike),

I’m not sure if you’re talking about trying to feed feral honey bees, or wild native bees . . . ?

Considering that the main focus of your blog is honey bees, I’m guessing that’s what you’re talking about. But, just in case Mike is talking about wild native bees, I thought I’d chime in!

Planting native blooming species is the best way to keep native bees fed. Providing a water source in the form of a birdbath can also help, especially in dry summers. Honey bees collect water too, so a bird bath will benefit them as well. If you don’t have a birdbath, even a shallow pan of water will do the trick. But be sure to empty and refill every few days so you’re not growing mosquitoes!

Hope that’s helpful! :)

Mike
Reply

Just to make it really clear. Here in Central Texas we are in a severe drought. We have not had any rain since mid-June. We are rapidly approaching 90 days of 100+ degree weather. Some cities that use a reservoir are nearly out of drinking water. The area lakes are more than 30′ feet below seasonal average. Even large, established trees are dying. [U]Nothing[/U] is growing. Even the weeds are dying.

I mention this so that future responders will understand that planting flowers or starting a new hive are not options.

Mike
Reply

Okay, some useful ideas and info. Thanks to all. I have an idea. I’ll let you know how my experiment works out.

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

Here are some things that came in via e-mail:

“How about trying bee candy instead…or an open feeder that only allows bees access….?”

“I have set out a small saucer of sugar water in periods of extreme drought just to keep anyone from starving. Shallow enough that no one drowns. A couple of days max and I fill it twice a day. I’m only working ten hives so this amount is hardly a substitute for natural food but it does seem to satisfy the appetite until nature resumes the cycle.”

Mike
Reply

SUCCESS! I put out several paper cupcake cups to fence posts with a small amount of really rich sugar water/honey mixture and attached some colored card stock to the posts and only a couple of hours the bees are at it. Of course the ants have discovered them as well, but the bees don’t seem to mind sharing. :)

Rusty
Reply

Okay, Mike! Now that’s clever. Cupcake papers and colored cards . . . who woulda thunk it? I can’t wait to try this myself, just out of curiosity!

Mike
Reply

UPDATE: If you’re going to try this be sure and flatten the cups out so that the bees can sit at the edge and not get caught in the syrup.

Maria
Reply

My hummingbird feeder dripped onto my deck and the bees swarmed it and the feeder too. I set out a lid from a plastic container, with sugar water, and they are getting the hang of it. They really seem to prefer it off the deck boards, which have been treated to bead the water on them. It’s too hot to use our deck so it doesn’t bother me much. I have to say since I’m not a beekeeper it takes some getting used to, to seeing all those bees on my deck. As to the comment on wild vs feral . . . how on earth would a novice know? It’s not like you tag/brand your bees.

Rusty
Reply

Maria,

Feral honey bees are just managed honey bees that escaped into the wild. You can’t tell by looking at them, you can only tell by where they came from. You are right: no tags, no clue.

Jim Whatley
Reply

I live in the Texas Hill Country—the finest area of the finest state—now my braggin duty has been rendered, we are in another severe drought. I hived my first bees in early May. Things were going great . . . then the drought returned with a vengeance. I opened my hive Aug 17 and noticed that not only was there no brood in all the frames I inspected, the previously stored honey had been consumed. Well I started feeding a 1/1 sugar water ration and the sugar water is going down at about a quart a day.

I am now suspecting we are being robbed by wild bees. Prior to feeding, the bees were very gentle. Now if I stand nearer than 50′, I run the risk of being stung by 5-10 bees.

My questions now are;
1-Will marauding robbers cause my managed bees to become aggressive/protective?
2-How do I feed my bees?
3-Do I put a 5 gal bucket full of syrup with a board wrapped in a towel floating on top some distance away?
4-Will the wild bees continue robbing my hive?
5-WHAT SHOULD I DO???

Thanks for your help.

Rusty
Reply

Jim,

Honey bees become aggressive whenever nectar is in short supply, such as in a drought. So taking your questions from the top:

1. Yes, robbing bees will cause your otherwise docile bees to aggressively defend any honey stores they may have left. They know they can’t survive without a food supply.

2. Feed your bees with an internal feeder–one that cannot be accessed by bees from other hives. Also, reduce your entrances to just one small entrance so it is easier to defend.

3. No. Do not use an “open feeder.” If you put feed outside during a drought, you will attract bees from miles around. Very little of the syrup will go to your own bees. Not only will you be feeding wild bees, you will be feeding wasps, hornets, and any other thing that can fly, walk, or crawl to your feeder.

4. Bees will continue to rob your hive until either the drought ends or the winter sets in. In this case, it will end when the winter sets in.

5. First, make sure you have a queen in each hive. You say that you saw no brood. You should have seen some brood, even if it wasn’t much. If you have a queen, feed 2:1 syrup in an internal feeder. Also give them pollen supplement. If they are as bereft of stores as you say, it will be tricky to get them through the winter.

Jim Whatley
Reply

Thanks for all the info…Well we finally had some rain in September, enough to cause a big bloom in the area. The colony got with it and filled one deep to the brim with brood and honey. The second super was completely ignored so I took it off. Have had more rain in Jan/Feb as well…YEA!!

Now, in spite of all the ‘help’ I have given, they are doing GREAT!!! Have added second super and will check on the progress soon.

We have had an immense Agarita bloom and now Mt Laurels etc are kicking in. Looks like they will make it.

Once again, thanks for your help.

Rusty
Reply

Jim,

Glad to hear it’s working out for you.

Pedro
Reply

Can honey bees be fed diluted jam or jelly?

Rusty
Reply

Pedro,

It is not a good idea to feed jam or jelly to bees because it contains solid particles that are not a normal part of the honey bee’s diet. These solids can cause honey bee dysentery (diarrhea) which is detrimental to overall colony health. Plain sugar is better.

linda
Reply

I’ve had wild bees coming to my fruit table meant for the wild birds. They seem to really thrive on the fruit juice and water melon is a favourite. I put out some apricot jam yesterday and they are feeding from it. now I’ve read that it’s not a good idea. How can I help these bees. I live in Maseru Lesotho and we have a bee hive at the school, where I live and work. The bees make such a nusance of themselves at recess when the kids drink and eat. I think that they’re starving! How can I help the hive?

Rusty
Reply

Linda,

I don’t think I can help. If I recall my geography, you have warm and rainy summers and you are coming out of the worst of the heat now. Up here, bees can get cranky in the hot weather, but our hot weather is also dry, whereas yours is wet. Also, I’m not sure about your bees. You say you have a hive at the school, but is it a honey bee hive or another type of hive? Or is it a wasp? I just don’t know enough about your situation to give advice.

As a general rule, I wouldn’t encourage the bees to come anywhere near an area where children are. So if the fruit table is near, perhaps you should move it further away. If the jam and fruit attracts bees to the school yard, they will keep coming back for more and probably bring their friends. So maybe feeding them is making the situation worse for the children.

In any case, without knowing more I’m just speculating.

Pete
Reply

In my best opinion what you are seeing at the fruit table and what is bothering the children is most likely not honeybees. When you understand how they get their foraging orders it is unlikely that the bees you are seeing are Apis m. – you are most likely dealing with yellowjackets. Same size but a shiny body v/s hairy body of the honey bee. Honey bee legs will be all black – yellow jacket has yellow on legs – a very intense yellow/black contrast. The honey bee color is more subdued/muted yellow/cream to darkish brown yellow. Flight patterns are also different – yellowjacket has more “jerky” movement – honey bee has a more fluid movement while foraging. Google image both and compare the two.
On the same note – I would have the fruit board as far away from school children as possible.

Georg
Reply

Just a remark on colors: Those red flowers, supposed to appear black to a honey bee, wouldn’t survive if they weren’t (but they are!) bi-colored. They shine in bright ultraviolet and attract pollinators.
Best, Georg

Rusty
Reply

Georg,

Also, red flowers attract hummingbirds, which are great pollinators.

linda
Reply

I have successfully fed wild bees throughout the summer on sugar water and they have survived the winter. The blossoms are out now so they have some food source but I will definitely feed them again as where we are there are very few flowers.

Jennifer
Reply

How do you stop the bees from drowning? We put out sugar water in shallow trays and still many seem to drown??They are starving after nearly 3 years of drought, close to Lesotho, Clocolan in the Free State South Africa.
It has also been the coldest winter in many years so the bees have had as bad a time as all else.
Once they get sugar water on their body or wings they seem to not be able to move and drown, even in the shallow trays??

Rusty
Reply

Jennifer,

You need to put stones or marbles or something similar in the trays. The sugar water needs to be below the level of the stones so the bees can easily crawl out. Some people use corks or pieces of wood that float on top, which works as well.

Janet
Reply

I am not a beekeeper, but so delighted to see the bees here. We are in a major drought and they are swarming my hummingbird feeders. So I made a mixture of 1 part sugar to 2 parts water to feed our bees. They love it. I put in flat lids so they don’t drown, is this ok to do? I love seeing so many. Does the sugar water stick on them? Also, how long can I feed them this way? There isn’t very many flowers now because of the drought.

Rusty
Reply

Hi Janet,

Bees love sugar water and it is perfectly fine to feed it to them. They will usually keep taking it until the weather turns too cold to forage, especially in a drought or a nectar dearth (which usually go together). Sometimes the sugar water will stick to them and sometimes you will see the bees licking it off each other. It’s not a problem.

Janet
Reply

Thanks Rusty! After my post and at the end of the day, the bees were everywhere and even seemed to follow me as I walked to my garden, mlol. But they don’t sting. I am so delighted to see so many, I mean is a big swarm. They even seem to like playing in the sugar water with each other. Love watching them. Thanks for your response, I will keep feeding them.

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