Inside: Social insects like honey bees, wasps, and ants crave high-calorie treats. With so many mouths to feed, colony workers will collect nectar or sugar water wherever they find it. Bee-free hummingbird feeders can give your hummers some space.
Table of contents
- Honey bees and hummingbirds enjoy the same things
- 9 proven ways to separate birds and bees
- 1. Use the recommended sweetness for hummers
- 2. Provide a water source for bees
- 3. Give bees their own syrup
- 4. Use red hummingbird feeders
- 5. Hang hummingbird feeders in the shade
- 6. Plant flowers the bees crave
- 7. Buy a hummingbird feeder with bee guards
- 8. Make sure your hummingbird feeders don’t drip
- 9. Move feeders from place to place
- You may need to use multiple methods
Whether your hummingbird feeders attract social insects like bees and wasps depends on many factors. The color and design of the feeders, their proximity to colonies of insects, the season, and the flowers in bloom can make a big difference. Or sometimes, it’s pure luck—or lack of it.
Honey bees and hummingbirds enjoy the same things
It’s difficult to separate bees from hummingbirds because they have similar wants. Both like sugar water, colorful flowers, nice aromas, and cloudless summer skies.
Since they seek similar things, you need to find subtleties that divide them. Once you discover their differences, you can use those traits to separate them. Let’s look at ways to keep hummers safe.
9 proven ways to separate birds and bees
By taking the following steps, you can often separate the birds from the bees:
1. Use the recommended sweetness for hummers
Hummingbirds thrive on sugar that’s not too sweet. The National Audobon Society recommends 1/4 cup of refined sugar to 1 cup of water. This is within the normal range of sweetness for most flower nectars and is moderately attractive to honey bees.
However, honey bees always go for the sweetest nectar around. This makes sense because they must remove most of the water from nectar when they make honey. If nearby flowers have sweeter nectar, the bees will prefer those flowers over the feeder.
Bottom line: Never make your hummingbird nectar overly sweet. Using the recommended recipe will attract fewer bees and be healthier for the birds, too.
2. Provide a water source for bees
If you plan to keep honey bees, make sure they have a source of drinking water. Sometimes, honey bees drink hummingbird nectar for water more than for sugar. This is likely to happen during the warm, dry months of summer when both nectar and water are scarce.
I find that colonies with plenty of water bother hummers less than colonies short of water, so plan carefully. Even if you don’t keep bees, providing a dish of water with pebbles to stand on can help control bees that live in the neighborhood. Place the water bowl as far as possible from the feeders.
3. Give bees their own syrup
In addition to providing a water source, you can also give your bees their own bowl of sugar syrup. Make it about one part sugar to one part water or double it to two parts sugar to one part water. The amount of sugar isn’t at all crucial, but it should be much sweeter than the hummingbird syrup.
I often add a drop or two of anise oil to the bee syrup. The oil has an odor that readily attracts honey bees. Once they are accustomed to the location of the syrup, you don’t need to continue with the oil. Its function is simply to help bees find the syrup when you first put it out.
Once the bees begin drinking the syrup, make sure it doesn’t run dry. If the hummingbird feeders are still in use, your bees may go back to them if they have no alternative.
4. Use red hummingbird feeders
Hummingbirds love red flowers, but bee vision makes long-wavelength colors like red look black. However, bees can see both yellow and white, so pick a hummingbird feeder with as much red (and as little yellow) as possible.
5. Hang hummingbird feeders in the shade
Bees are sun-loving creatures and you seldom see them foraging in shady areas or under trees. Hummingbirds don’t mind the shade, however, so shade makes an excellent separator.
As an added bonus, shade keeps the bird syrup cooler, and cool syrup is slower to ferment. So shade is doubly good for the hummers.
6. Plant flowers the bees crave
Because honey bees search for the sweetest nectar, plant flowers that honey bees can’t resist. Your selection will depend on where you live, but your local extension office or bee club will be able to offer good advice.
If you know what season brings the most bees to your hummingbird feeders, concentrate on plants that bloom during that time. Like taking candy from a toddler, try to substitute something truly tempting.
Keep in mind that honey bees have a fondness for blue, violet, yellow, and white flowers. Flowers with thick nectar and an alluring color will attract lots of honey bees.
7. Buy a hummingbird feeder with bee guards
A bee guard is like a goaltender’s mask. It is a spherical grid that bees can’t fit through. But the spaces are large enough for a hummingbird tongue. Even though honey bees have long tongues, their length doesn’t hold a candle to a hummer tongue. Bee guards work by keeping bees and wasps from getting close to the liquid.
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8. Make sure your hummingbird feeders don’t drip
Bee guards won’t work if your feeder is leaking, dripping, or overflowing with syrup. If bees and wasps congregate to feed off the drips, they will be close enough to the feeder to intimidate the hummers.
Each time you refill the feeders, wipe any drips with a damp cloth and make sure the feeder is not leaking.
9. Move feeders from place to place
Bees are creatures of habit, so once they find a food source they keep going back to the same place. If you move the source just 4-to-6 feet away, the bees may get discouraged and go elsewhere.
On the other hand, the hummingbirds won’t miss a beat and will readily find the moved feeder. This difference has to do with the way both sets of animals see and navigate. So each time bees begin using the hummingbird feeders, just move the feeders a few feet away—even moving them back to the original place usually works!
You may need to use multiple methods
Bees are persistent creatures, so you may have to try several things to protect your hummingbird feeders. But don’t let that discourage you. Both hummingbirds and bees and vital pollinators, so it’s worth your time to keep both groups happy.
If you have ways to keep the bees away, let us hear your secrets! Anything that helps is worth a try, so thanks for your ideas.
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That first photo is amazing, with the honey bee, the bumbler, and the hummer together. The bird looks like a metal sculpture. Wow.
I’ve found my bees don’t bother with the hummingbird feeders until they REALLY do — and I find that’s prime evidence of a dearth
That makes so much sense. Good observation!
I use the feeder you show with the yellow bee guards. Strikes me a dumb that they make the bee guards in a color that attracts bees. Without them, the bees crawl in through the tubes, and drown in the jar.
As for dripping nectar, these things are pumps. The cool of night contracts the air in the top of the bottle, sucking more air in through the nectar tubes. As the day warms the air expands, forcing nectar out. They drip. You can’t stop it.
When bees discovered my hummer feeders two summers ago, I moved the feeders in to the shade, and gave the bees their own sweeter nectar in a deli container lid that, upside down, formed an island in the middle. The bees knew I was their friend; they tamed right down, so I could get right in there with them to add sugar without them even moving away. That was as much fun as the hummers, but they weren’t there last summer. Bummer. I garden. Need bees.
I need a shallow hanging wind resistant nectar feeder for short-billed birds. I had a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and my mob of bush tits, trying to eat from the hummer feeder this winter. Looked like they weren’t reaching the nectar, so I put out a little red jar lid with nectar. The Kinglet found it first day; I don’t think the titmice ever did, but I never see them come down to that platform. They’re not ground feeders, are they.
Any ideas for that feeder?
How do you get rid of ants when they come into your hummingbird feeders especially when you have the b guards on in the holes let the ants in and of course leave the bees out.
Some people say that if you hang hummingbird feeders with strong but really fine wire, the ants can’t walk on it. If it’s too narrow for the ants to get a good grip, they simply can’t get to the feeders.
I set out a humming bird feeder that was red with yellow flowers and it got covered in bees. There were so many bees that the hummingbirds got scared to land. Then I replaced it with a feeder that was completely red and the bees completely disappeared.
That sounds about right. I don’t know why the manufacturers like yellow so much.
Do you think hummingbirds taste like chicken? I find them a little gamey myself but my uncle considers them a treat.
Attach cucumber skins to your feeders. Bees and yellow jackets had the odor. Dice cucumbers and spread them around your cook out food too. They will stay away.
I have never heard about that before! How long before you have to replace the cucumber skins with fresh ones?
There is a smaller bee that I call a “news bee,”that can get through the bee guards. Then they either get stuck in the tube or go all the way through and end up floating dead in the sugar water.
A “news bee” is not a bee, but a flower fly. They don’t bite or sting.
At the height of hummingbird season, I have 26 feeders up. Went thru 370 lbs. of sugar last year feeding hummers. So I fight bees and wasps constantly, until last year. I went to all flat feeders. They don’t hold as much necter, but they clean easily, don’t leak, and the bees and wasps can’t obtain nectar from the feeders.
That’s interesting; I didn’t know the flat kind kept the bees away. By the way, at 370 lbs of sugar, you sound a lot like a beekeeper.