wild bees and native bees

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.]

Bees are attracted by sight and scent

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.


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  • 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.


    Dunedin, New Zealand.

  • 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.

  • 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! 🙂

  • 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.

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

    • 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.”

  • 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. 🙂

    • 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!

    • Hello Mike, I am feeding the wild bees; I am also not a beekeeper. We have so many bees now, every day and they drink the sugar water up so fast. They are voracious eaters.

      I put the sugar water in a large pan in a fountain and I put rocks in the pan so the bees can stand on the rocks and sip the sugar water. Every once in a while one will get a lot of sugar water and it will dry on them. I gently pour a bit of water over the bee and when dry, off they go. This year we have a terrible drought in Northern California. I wanted to make bee candy, but where would I put it since I don’t have a hive. Does anyone have any ideas? Thanks!!!

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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?

    Thanks for your help.

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

      • 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.

  • 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??

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  • Hi!

    I was drinking my green tea with lemon and honey yesterday when 2 bees started flying around me, obviously they wanted to.drink some too. So I put some in a jar lid and mixed it with sugar and put a half lemon beside it which really attracted them. After 10 minutes there were probably a 100 bees by the jar lid.

    I don’t know much about feeding bees. I would like to put out some cane sugar and water mixture to them if that helps them. How often should I do that?

    We have a big yard so I put it pretty far away from our house, but my husband says they might get used to the food source and they might build their hive at the house. Is that possible?
    We live in Texas, so the weather is usually very warm and humid and rarely rain. I would appreciate any advice. Thanks

    • Niki,

      If you put out sugar water for bees, make sure it contains stones or marbles or something else for them to stand on. Bees can easily drown if the syrup is too deep.

      I think it is unlikely that bees would move into your house because of the food source. They select their home for a number of reasons, and a good food supply is just one of them. Still, it is not impossible. The very best thing you can do for bees is have lots of flowering plants nearby. Maybe that is something you should consider.

  • Thanks Rusty!

    I pour very shallow amount of sugar water in a plastic dish and I also put lemons cut in half in there, which allows them to climb on and they also eat it.

    I do not want to influence their natural instinct by giving them food, so until we plant flowers they like, how often should I give them sugar water?

    • Niki,

      When they finish it, you can give them more. Once the flowers are in bloom, they will stop coming because they prefer the nectar to the sugar syrup.

  • I put out the same sugar water for the bees as I do for my hummers, one part water to one part sugar. I place the sugar water in a shallow plastic bowl and put a sponge in there so the bees can climb on the sponge and drink and then they leave my hummer feeders alone. I have a big enough bowl that I only have to fill it once a day.

    • I just have to say that too much sugar for the hummingbirds isn’t good. Too much sugar can harm the liver and kidneys of hummingbirds. The ratio of sugar is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.

    • I just have to say that too much sugar for the hummingbirds isn’t good. Too much sugar can harm the liver and kidneys of hummingbirds. The ratio of sugar is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.

  • Fascinating info on this site, I love reading about helps for bees, thanks, host and bloggers.

  • Interesting. We had bees swarm our hummingbird feeder this year, so I made a feeding area to draw them away from that feeder to another area last week. Theyve been generally leaving the bird feeder alone now, even though I only put a small amount out now. We had a ton of them come by, but I had also put a lot out the first day. Currently I have a small jar lid that I only place a little bit out on each evening so they don’t “swarm” and so they don’t drown. There are 4-6 patiently waiting there each evening, just sitting and waiting, for sugar syrup. Has anyone else seem this with wild hives? They’ve done this since the start. I have tons of flowers, but the area otherwise doesn’t have too much (suburbs), and most of mine were spring flowers so there’s less now that it summer. I would have 30+ bumble bees on my salvia flowers! Only saw a honey bee or two most of the spring until the feeder a couple of weeks ago.

    I find it interesting that when watching them, I see very very few that have pollen baskets, and small ones if that, from the start of their arrival. Does anyone know if this is an inductor that pollen/nectar are not readily available? I don’t want to mess up the hive (I’m careful about the ratios and only put a little bit out each day), but I also wonder if the food in the area is that scarce, so I don’t want to “not help” if they need it, you know? Excited to see honey bees, have seen less and less even when I was in a rural area and my grandparents bee kept when I was a kid, so it’s neat to watch them again.

    Also, DO NOT I repeat DO NOT feed honey to bees unless it’s from their own hive. There are diseases that can kill them that can be present in raw or processed honies. Not a good idea and not worth the risk. There’s a lot of bee keeping info online if you want to get an idea of how/what ratios of sugar to water can help during different times of years available online.

  • I just discovered a bee hive at our shop. It is about 18 feet from the front door. I can see it from our front door, but it is not where anyone would be walking and there is a glass entry way that blocks that side of the door way. It is in the overhang. They go in up next to the drainage pipe. I am not sure how big the hive is. We would have to remove some boards to see and we don’t want to disturb them. They swarm around the opening but don’t seem to come toward the door at all. I will not have them removed unless they start coming around the door too much. It has been so dry and I have no flowers at our shop. I was thinking of getting some potted plants for them. Any suggestions? Also, is there any advise on how to not make them aggressive, other then not getting close to them? I don’t know much about bees. As the hive grows do they get more aggressive? Any advise would be appreciated.

    • Lisa,

      Plants are a good idea if they are indeed bees and not wasps. But if they are bees, you can go to the Plant Lists I have posted, and use the list that applies to your area. Bees are most aggressive when flowers are in short supply (now), so if they are not bothering you now, you are probably okay. Other things that make bees cranky are loud noises, high heat or humidity, or predation by other animals. Growth of a hive itself does not increase bad behavior. In fact, much of it is genetically controlled, so one hive may behave very differently than another in the same conditions.

  • I came here asking the same question. My experience is I FILL a shallow dinner plate with clean colorful marbles, then I proceed to top off with water then I pour white sugar pure cane until completely saturated. It gives them water and sugar. I was just wondering if there is anything else I could add besides a blessing. Once the bees find it it will come back by the thousands! And let me tell you they know that you’re helping them. And any stings are medicinal!!

    • Thank you Marshall. I have been feeding the bees now since August. And also last year, but there were so many this year!!! We are in a terrible drought, but finally getting rain and its cold. The bees have finally gone back to their hives (wild bees) and have stopped coming. On sunny days I will put the sugar water out again for them to see if they still need a little help. I wish there were a way I could post a video of them here or a picture. They even swarm me, but have never stung me. They dislike the sound of lawnmowers and vibrations from weed eaters, etc.
      I called a beekeeper and he told me to keep feeding, that they will return to their hive when it gets cold. I made a mixture of 1 part sugar to 2 parts water to feed our bees. They loved it. I put rocks in a shallow bowl so they don’t drown. We loved seeing so many!!! Sometimes I would find a bee with too much sugar water on and would lightly mist with clean water and they dry off and are fine.

  • Does boiling sugar for some time help or not for the digestion and assimilation process?

    Kind of like making invert sugar for wine making? 🙂

    • Ken,

      It appears from the literature that boiling and inverting sugar cause the formation of hydroxymethylfurfural. It’s best to mix sugar in cold water without added acids such as vinegar or lemon juice.

    • I just use lukewarm water, I don’t boil and then I blend with my bullet til the sugar dissolves, I never boil. Just a suggestion. As long as the sugar dissolves you’re ok.

  • I live in Stow, Ma and I have just recently starting feeding wild bees in September. I put a capful of straight hummingbird nectar on top of my Mezoo plant. I starting getting so many I had to move away from our pool area. Then I starting mixing it with water, soon that ran out. Now I am down to sugar and water. I have set up a birdbath away from our area with a lot of sticks in them to avoid drowning.

    Once in a while they land in my pool and I have to net them out. They do not go after me when I pour more sugar/water in the dish among them all. Once I made the mistake of opening the hummingbird feeding while pouring the mixture on a few bottle caps and they flew right into the mixture and got stuck; I had to use a stick to get them out. Scent is a major part of their lives. They seem to follow me once in a while but never aggressive toward me. I will put out a few rocks in the birdbath tonight when they are all gone and add more sugar/water. I have a ton of zinnia’s in bloom and Rose of Sharon bush.

    Keep posting I enjoyed the comments, just found this page today.


    • Dear Yvonne

      I read your message and was delighted to hear that you are feeding the bees. At present I live in an apartment and have no real access to them but when I lived in Maseru, Lesotho I fed the wild bees there. I too found that they would wait for me to come out with the ‘bee juice’ as I call it and then they would fly off really fast to gather the rest of the workers. It was truly amazing. And yes I would find them following me too. I also put sticks and rocks in their juice so as to help them find an anchor. Sometimes they would inadvertently push each other in and I would have to fish them out. I found out too that brown sugar made them sick so stick to white sugar and water.

  • I am not an apiarist,but an endangered wildflower and pollinator conservationist. I also am not a democrat, but wholeheartedly support the POTUS’s initiative to help and sustain our honey bees and other pollinators. It is my belief and not shared alone, that God created wildflowers for the exact purpose of feeding and propagating His pollinators. We can say that our pollinators are disappearing due to the effects of overdevelopment, pesticides, herbicides, GMO’s and other factors too numerous to llist. What is not so obvious is that our disappearing wildflowers, the source of food for our struggling friends, are being decimated by those very same factors. Hummingbird nectar, sugar water, honey and substitute pollen….those are emergency fixes. Insure the success of your pollinators by planting wildflowers that are endemic to your individual horticultural zone. Xerces.org and Pollinator.org have the necessary resources for you to select those wildlflowers that are particular to your growing region – those annuals, biennials and perennials that will provide a steady supply of nutrition to your pollinators in spring, summer and fall. When you have a steady stream of food, there is no need for substituting alternate and inferior methods of feeding. Unfortunately, droughts, flooding, or as in my case in coastal Carolina, hurricanes, alternate methods of pollinator sustainment are required, and only then do I use these methods.

    I would never use honey or corn syrup due to possible pathogen contaminates…plus, is the corn syrup GMO? Who knows since GMO labeling is looked down upon by our crooked government, who lines their pockets with the monies from those corporations that poison our foods. Also, I have heard that heating honey or corn syrup creates HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural) which is ulcerous to a bee’s digestive system.

    Does can sugar offer complete nutrition to meet our pollinator’s needs? I doubt it, but would use it as a last resort, and have used it. I boil the water to remove pathogens, and add a few drops of yellow food coloring, because what bee doesn’t love that color. Remove from heat before adding sugar and stir until dissolved, at the ratio of sugar to water – 1:2; 1:1; 2:1, depending upon spring, summer or fall, respectively.

    A good hummingbird nectar contains sucrose, and to a lesser extent, other plant sugars, along with trace elements of protein, amino acids and electrolytes…the very same elements that are found in nectar producing plants. I would steer clear of any commercial hummingbird nectar that contains preservatives or other alien additives.

    Conclusion: (1) Establish a wildflower habitat particular to your region that provides for continuous blooming during spring, summer and fall. (2) In periods of nutritional stress, provide a quality hummingbird nectar that mimics the exact qualities of nectar producing plants.

    I’ve been doing this for 15 years with huge success. I do not call them feral bees, nor do I call them wild bees. They live with me and feed from my wildflowers. We live in harmony and I call them domestic bees.

  • Hi, thanks for the great info. We are in a drought in Alabama and I have been feeding my bees since I noticed they were struggling. Then I realized that our wild colonies were probably suffering too. So, today I put out some of those cheap entrance feeders from ebay that fit on a water bottle .The wild bees apparently we’re starving too because they dog piled them. They seem to work well and I don’t see any evidence of drowning. Don’t put them near a place you don’t want a lot of bee traffic though!

  • I am in California and I was feeding the wild bees and we had many of them at this time last year.

    This year I have seen none, except about 3 bees on the hummingbird feeders. I also saw no yellow jackets, fig wasps or monarchs which we see every year.

    Its heartbreaking.

    • Janet,

      Yes, it is sad. I, too, had fewer wild bees this year than last. Some species were completely missing.

  • I also used 1 part water to one part sugar but I put in a fountain with rocks so they wouldn’t drown. When I made mixture, I used a rocket blender and made the solution totally clear but didn’t want to overheat.

  • I live in Chaparral, New Mexico where it has been terribly dry the past few years. I supply water for the birds, etc. and two hummingbird feeders. Our last hummer has finally left (a juvenile who didn’t get the migration memo and overstayed two additional months–we hope he moved on and didn’t freeze) and during the last few days he was here a swarm of honeybees showed up on the feeders. They have been here eating every day and the nectar is nearly gone. Should I make more for them? I don’t know much about them and they showed up long after the wildflowers and my garden were all gone. Also is the sugar concentration okay for them to be eating?

    • Sheila,

      Once honey bees find a source of food, they will keep coming back until it is gone or until they find a better source. You can feed them more if you want, but they will probably do just fine if you don’t. It’s up to you whether you want them around or not. All floral sources have different concentrations of sugar, so bees are very adept at using a wide range of concentrations. Hummingbird nectar seems to one of their favorites.

  • I don’t have a hive, but would just like to feed bees that might need a little extra, in addition to the flowers in my garden. I live on the south coast of Australia and we’re coming into summer here. If I give them the sugar / water mix I have read about here, what is the correct ratio, and is it just plain old white granulated sugar mixed in cold water? Thanks, I’ll look forward to your advice.

    • Sally,

      Yes, you mix plain old granulated sugar with cool water. The ratio isn’t important because the sugar in nectar comes in all kinds of ratios ranging from about 4% sugar to about 80% sugar. A good place to start is about 50/50.

    • Thanks Marsha and Rusty – Marsha I thought I’d read somewhere that it wasn’t a good idea to feed bees honey that wasn’t their own? Was that incorrect? And are there certain times of the year when you shouldn’t feed bees (will it upset/affect beekeepers?) – don’t want to do the wrong thing!! Many thanks

      • Sally,

        To clarify, you shouldn’t feed honey to honey bees unless you know the source of the honey and know it is free of disease. The topic of this post was feeding wild, or rather, native bees. If you are referring to feral western honey bees, they are not native to Australia. In any case, I wouldn’t feed them honey unless you are confident of the purity of the source. Why not just feed sugar syrup?

  • Good Morning from South Africa Free State Province. I replied not sure where my reply went!!

    We are in a terrible drought here in South Africa, and have been feeding wild bees for years.

    PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT FEED HONEY IT IS DEADLY TO BEES FROM ANOTHER HIVE. We have an old bath cut down with lots of stones and rocks in it which is kept at a perfect level and hundreds of bees drink there all day. We feed watermelon in summer and oranges in winter. The water has no sugar in, it is pure water, we find if they get sugar water on their wings they can’t fly.


  • I live in North East Texas and for the first time in 6 years, I had a large amount of feral bees all over my hummer feeders. I set out a saucer of water; not leaving the feeders. Then gave them some of the hummer water and they were all over it. It went fast so I went to a jar lid. That lasted about an hour. Now I have a small cat watering bottle and that seems to be working for a day. I just want to be sure I am not doing something wrong by feeding them this early in the summer. I am not interested in being a “bee keeper” but am happy to help the wild critters is it is a positive thing. Any advise is appreciated.

    • Cheryl,

      I can’t tell from your description what kind of bees you are feeding. If they are someone’s honey bees, I’m sure they won’t appreciate sugar syrup in their honey. On the other hand, if they are truly feral honey bees, or if they are wild bees of some other species, I suppose it doesn’t matter.

  • We are also in a serious drought in northern Arizona. The most inactive and empty monsoon recorded. I noticed wild bees coming in this summer to my patio fountain for water which thrills me. Also noticed the same bees drinking from the hummer feeder and picking up spilled syrup off the concrete below. My hummingbirds have migrated for the winter. I plan on feeding the bees until freezing temps. Feel good about doing something nice for the population.

  • (Linda from southeastern Ohio) Yesterday, my three hummingbird feeders became inundated with honey bees, which I think are coming from a feral hive that split in the middle of June. I never saw the big colony but I saw the hundreds of stragglers flying around the grove of trees it was in. So yesterday I put a couple of shallow dishes with pebbles and sugar water down below the feeders on the porch and later moved them around the side of the house trying to lure them away. By evening every hummer feeder and plates were three-four bees deep and they were fighting each other over the food. When they cleared out last night I saw that a good many had either been killed by other bees or had drowned under the piles of bees trying to eat. This morning I put out five dishes and one hummer feeder a little away from the porch in the hopes that they would move off of it. At this time I have hundreds if not thousands of bees flying around the front of the house and on these feeders. So, my questions is, since I think that most of them are from a new hive and that we are in a food drought here (according to a couple of beekeepers around here) should I keep feeding these bees and if I do, will they eventually calm down and quit killing/drowning each other? I want to help these bees, but I don’t want to keep killing them either.

    • Linda,

      This is one reason many people don’t like so-called open feeders. It can get quite competitive, with aggressive bees killing others. On the other hand, in a severe drought, many of the bees would die from a lack of food and/or water. I think it’s a judgment call.

  • I will be getting my first hive next spring. In the meantime, I’m feeding the feral bees. The temperature gets down in the 20s at night and 60s during the day. As soon as the temperature reaches the 50s I have thousands of bees. To keep the bees from drowning I do a few things:

    I put sand or dry rice in a bowl and put in just enough sugar water to cover the surface. I also use a chicken waterer with sugar water and fill the bowl/saucer with small wood chips for the bees to stand on.

    I also remove the feeders in the late afternoon because the bees will stay as long as there is food even though the temperatures drop. If it gets too cool they go into a ‘stupor’ and can’t fly home.

  • I live in San Antonio and noticed my poor wild bees needed water and food. Every morning I fill a plate with water/sugar mixture. I put rocks in it for the bees to stand on. They also hang out on my birdbath getting water all day. It’s bad this year and I’m just trying to help them make it through the summer. Several wait for me in the morning on the plate. I know nothing about beekeeping, so hopefully, I am mixing the sugar water properly.

  • Your water/sugar mix should be 3 parts water to 1 part sugar. I am in North East Texas and I have done the same thing for years to help keep the bees off my hummingbird feeder. I usually miss up 4 cups at a time and keep the extra in the frig. I refill at night so by morning the water is outside temp. Thank you for thinking of our bees.

    • Cheryl,

      Your water/sugar mix of 3 parts water to 1 part sugar will work fine. But I want to stress that any ratio of water to sugar will work. In nature, every flower produces nectar with varying degrees of sugar-to-water. Most commonly, nectar falls in the range of about 4% to about 60% sugar. It’s important to me that people not obsess over these ratios. Anything will help the bees.

      For a detailed explanation, see https://www.honeybeesuite.com/sugar-syrup-ratios/

  • Thanks for the info and the link; I learned so much that I never even thought about before. I have lived with filtered well water most of my life so I forget sometimes that others are using ‘city water’ which has all kinds of added chemicals. Also, the spring/winter feeding issue was a surprise and is now part of my regime.