Last Updated on December 11, 2022
Do hummingbird feeders attract bees? They can if you make these common mistakes. Find out how to separate the birds from the bees so that your feeders work and everybody is happy.
Why Do Hummingbirds And Bees Like Sugar?
Both are pollinators. In essence, a flower provides a little sugar bribe to attract a pollinator. This pollinator arrives, sucks up the sugar and in so doing also gets exposed to pollen, which then allows the pollen to be moved from flower to flower. So plants pay pollinators to help them with their sex life.
Hummingbirds tend to be paid in a different way from the ways bees are paid. Typically, flowers pollinated by hummingbirds are not that attractive to bees, and vice versa. If we understand how this works we can bypass the problems with bees being attracted to our hummingbird feeders, and we can also ensure we do not damage our hummingbirds.
What Is A Hummingbird Feeder?
These are typically a reservoir that we can fill with sugar, and below this, there is some sort of system where the birds can stick their beaks in and drink sugar water. You get really ornate ones like this and really simple ones that you can just plug into a glass bottle such as this one. All of them are simply a way of giving hummingbirds a sugar solution that they can drink.
Do Hummingbird Feeders Attract Bees?
Yes, they can. Generally, if there is an abundance of nectar available in the flowers around the hive, bees will collect this nectar. During a period of nectar dearth (shortage) bees can become desperate and will sometimes try to take sugar from sugar feeders and cooldrink cans. When this happens, the same tends to happen with yellow jacket wasps, which look similar to bees. Yellow jackets are more of a pest this way than bees.
Why Are Bees Swarming My Hummingbird Feeder?
The bees are attracted to the sugar solution, and, much like hummingbirds, need sugar to provide them with energy. It is probably due to dry weather and a lack of flowers. If you have your sugar concentration wrong in the feeder, the bees will get more attracted. Read on to find out how to stop this problem.
How To Keep Bees Away From Hummingbird Feeders
So we have ascertained that hummingbirds and bees are both pollinators. They are both attracted to sources of sugar. Bees tend to be attracted to more concentrated sources of sugar, whereas hummingbirds are attracted to more dilute sources of sugar. But why do hummingbird feeders attract bees?
This is quite simple – bees need to make honey – so the flowers that pay bees for pollination, pay them in concentrated nectar that is attractive to them because they need to take this back and concentrate it further to make honey. In this regard, bees are optimally attracted to sugar solutions that are in the 2:1 to 4:1 (2 parts water, 1 part sugar, 4 parts water, 1 part sugar) range, as they can take these and quickly dry these into sugar stores that are similar to honey. Honey is in the 1:4 range (1 part water, 4 parts sugar).
So in short – do hummingbird feeders attract bees? Yes, they do, if you mix your sugar water and make it too rich in sugar! If you get the sugar ratio right, your hummingbirds will be healthy, and bees will have little interest as the sugar is hardly worth their while to collect.
However, if the bees are really starving they will stoop to the levels of collecting low-sugar concentration nectar. In this case, we also need to use a mechanical method to keep the bees away.
What Is The Best Bee-Proof Hummingbird Feeder?
A bee-proof hummingbird feeder is some form of contraption that keeps the bees away from the sugar water in the feeder. In this regard, a grid that is slightly away from the sugar can keep the bees away from the nectar. A hummingbird can stick its beak through the grid, but bees can’t get through. Do hummingbird feeders attract bees? Well if they are bee-proof – no!!
If we look at a simple feeder design such as this it is clear how easy it is to design a grid into the feeder. This grid excludes bees from getting close enough to the feeder, and in this way is largely bee-proof.
How To Make Hummingbird Nectar For Your Feeder
There are a few mistakes people often make when mixing nectar for hummingbird feeders. If you are asking “Do hummingbird feeders attract bees” the answer, as we have said, is yes if you get the sugar concentration too high in your mix. Typically a low sugar concentration mix will be ideal, and will not attract bees – it will however ferment sometimes, and then the birds will not want to drink it. In this regard, you will have to clean the entire feeder well and wash it with some sort of bleach to kill any yeast and bacterial biofilms that have developed.
There are pre-prepared mixes that you can buy that are already in liquid form. You dilute these as per the instructions. If you scroll down to the ingredients you will see that they contain sodium benzoate – this is a preservative that inhibits yeast growth in the mixture, thus extending the shelf life of the product in the feeder. I personally feel that adding some sort of antifungal preservative to a solution that feeds a wild animal is a problem – a cursory search of the literature found some anecdotal evidence that this was sub-optimal but I have not found any direct papers. I suspect there must be.
You may think that the products that are in a powder form will not contain preservatives, but if you look at this product you will see it also contains sodium benzoate. This is problematic.
I would suggest following a recipe from a well-known source such as this.
Do not ever feed your hummingbirds any sugars that contain artificial sweeteners. These will kill the birds. Make sure only to buy pure white cane sugar, or beet sugar that states as its ingredient “sucrose” or sugar. All these other new-age products that are mixes of sucrose and sucralose and so on are just toxic to you, and to animals in general.
In Conclusion – Do Hummingbird Feeders Attract Bees?
Yes, they do if you make the sugar mix too strong and if you do not use bee guards. In dry periods, and towards fall, bees and wasps will be drawn to feeders, and it will be necessary to make sure that your sugar mix is low (low sugar concentration) and that your feeders have a bee guard on them. This is a mesh that keeps the bees away from the sugar. Never make sugar solutions using artificial sweeteners as these will kill your birds! I hope this has helped you understand how to keep your birds and bees apart!
Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.