honey bee threats predators

The birds and the bees

Are birds bugging your bees, swooping down for a meal every chance they get? Several beekeepers have mentioned persistent birds that have moved right into the cafeteria, so to speak, picking bees off the virtual conveyor belt that travels in and out of the hive.

My advice is not to worry. Here in North America, we don’t have birds that make honey bees their primary diet—even if it looks that way sometimes.

Two readers in the last month have described scrub jays hanging about in the trees just above the hive. Apparently they will snatch live bees right out of the air and scavenge dead ones from the ground. But scrub jays, like most of our birds, are omnivores that like a varied diet. They eat bees when it’s convenient but move on to other things such as berries, seeds, worms, or other insects as they become readily available. As the growing season progresses and different food items become plentiful, the birds usually move on, selecting other locations and other morsels to whet their appetites.

Right now your queen is busy laying perhaps 2000 eggs per day. That’s a lot of bees and probably a lot more than your birds are hungry for. And remember, too, that birds that pluck dead bees from the ground are doing you a favor—dead bees attract other predators, including hornets and yellow jackets, that ultimately may do more harm than the birds.

So relax, enjoy watching your birds, and remember that they are all part of the ecosystem, the web of life. Once your birds move on, you will probably miss their crazy antics.


A western scrub jay with a stinging insect. Flickr photo by Jessi Bryan.


  • I had seen blue tits stand on one of my hive stands and repeatedly dive down to the ground. I could only guess that they were searching bees or any other kind of insect. Now I know.

  • I am having issues with Cardinal bird picking off bees. There was one now there are two that sit in a tree in front of the hives and pick bees off. I am concerned that they will reduce the population as they are newer hives.

  • Catbirds are picking off my bees. Just got a weak winter hive going again and a new nuc. So just let nature play out? I wouldn’t know just what to do. The birds are nesting in the rhododendron behind the hives.

    • Gail,

      If the birds are getting them in the air, there isn’t much you can do. If they are standing on the landing board, you could put chicken wire around the hive. Personally, I would just let it play out.

  • Having problems with summer tanagers. Have just set up a new hive two weeks ago. The tanagers primary food is bees and wasps eating at least 10-20 bees a day. Will they end up destroying my hive before its established? Is there anything I can do to deter the birds from the hive?

    • Misty,

      Don’t worry about them. In spring and summer an average-sized honey bee colony loses about 1000 bees per day from various causes, one of them being birds. The high rates of egg-laying (up to 3000 per day) and brood rearing are designed to take natural loses into consideration. Things eating other things is the way a healthy ecosystem works.

  • One of our hives just hasn’t taken off. We’ve seen the queen and a good amount of brood, but the colony size just hasn’t grown the way I’d hoped. The last week or two I’ve noticed a pair of mockingbirds picking off bees from the hive. They’ve gotten bolder and bolder and are now landing on the entrance and grabbing bees. They continued for about a half an hour taking a bee about twice a minute. I’m not sure how many times a day they’re coming in to dine, but I’d guess several to many…

    How concerned should I be?


    • Melissa,

      If that persists every day, that’s a lot of loss. Can you do something to deter the birds? Maybe a chicken-wire enclosure across the front of the hives?

      • It IS a lot of loss. It’s easy to see why this hive hasn’t taken off like the other one. There are no other signs of trouble; mites, moths, the queen is present and in good health.

        I’m wondering how big the enclosure would have to be? Any size would keep the birds off the entrance board I guess. Once the bees flew through the screen they’d be fair game, but they wouldn’t be such easy pickings… good idea!

        Thanks, Rusty!

  • So glad I found your post! Have been watching this one Scrub Jay (now I know they have a name with the picture you included). While I was watching it snatch my bees from the air, I was doing my best to remind myself that this is, after all, the natural order of things and to just let things be – still doesn’t keep the spectacle from being frustrating to watch, though. I was already feeling ‘powerful’ after having found a way to discourage a local skunks late night visits to my two hives (i.e., basically I set up an insulated grid made of hardware mesh underneath the entrance of the hives – it is attached to a very basic containment fence charger ((non lethal amperage)), skunk stepped on it once – skunk gave up on my bees. 🙂 No convenient means to keep the bird away from the bees, though. Oh well – nature doing what it knows best to do.

  • I enjoy the bees, 3 hives, and the birds at home in South Central Ohio. I just checked on my bees. It was 26 yesterday morning and 35 today. Right now it’s about 50. As I approached the hives I saw a beautiful bird that looked somewhat like a Scarlet Tanager but not exactly. It flew up from near the hive entrances. I watched it for a while as it did not seem too scared of me. Then I walked in front of the hives and saw a couple of dozen bee carcasses, the front body parts gone. They were just outside the entrance. And I saw bird droppings in the same places. Obviously, a bird has been dining. Maybe the lethargy of the bees caused by the cold is making them an easier meal. I am not worried about the bees at this point, just enjoying this part of nature. I’m going back out now with binoculars and a bird book to observe this new thing.

  • Thanks a lot. Your article has answered my problem. Bees are tricky insects to eat because they are small, fast, and can sting! So I wonder that why do birds eat bees?

    • Jessica,

      Bees are a great source of protein for hungry birds, and I think the birds don’t allow them to get into the “sting position.”

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