The Birds and the Bees: Battling Bees at Hummingbird Feeders
We’re pretty sure you already know all about the birds and the bees – at least in the form of “the talk” parents have with their kids as they reach that certain age.
What you may be less familiar with is the lesson about how birds – hummingbirds, in particular –have to deal with bees, wasps and yellow jackets. These beautiful birds often compete for the same food sources, so it’s not surprising when conflict erupts between them.
Even beyond that particular issue, bugs and hummingbirds often find themselves at odds. The most obvious conflict comes from the fact that nearly every hummingbird species preys on insects! A large part of their diet revolves around the protein, fat and other nutrients derived from chowing down on the bugs they capture. In fact, some birds actually eat dozens of insects every day!
But few people realize that many bugs also gain a benefit from the hummingbirds around them. Some of them catch a meal from birds indirectly. Other insects consider the hummingbirds themselves the meal! The good news is you can actually help your feathered friends in these battles.
Wasps at Hummingbird Feeders
When people say they have “bees” on their hummingbird feeders, they usually mean that they have an invading army of wasps, hornets or yellow jackets. For the purpose of this discussion, know that the suggestions below pertain to all three.
These insects are indeed a real nuisance at feeders. Unlike bees, these creatures aren’t known for helping to pollinate plants in a significant manner. They also tend to be aggressive toward hummingbirds — and humans, too.
To help eliminate a bothersome group of wasps around a hummingbird feeder, try these tips:
- Capture wasps. Set up a wasp trap, which will focus their attention away from the feeder.
- Keep things clean. Limit wasp, hornet and yellow jacket attractants. Seal your garbage cans and thoroughly rinse your recyclables before putting them in their bin.
- Relocate feeders. Remove the feeder for a few days, and then hang it up again in a slightly different location. These insects aren’t smart enough to look for their food in a new place.
- Limit opportunities. Keep your feeders clean and limit leaks. Many feeders have Bee Guards, features which keep wasps, hornets and yellow jackets from reaching the nectar.
Bees at Hummingbird Feeders
While it’s easy to agree that wasps, hornets and yellow jackets are not good to have at a hummingbird feeder, the same can’t be said for bees. These insects truly benefit the ecosystem and serve as pollinators to flowers, trees and vegetables. Without them, it would be impossible to grow crops.
Also worth considering: The honey bee population is experiencing such a massive decline that scientists are extremely worried about their long-term survival. Finally, honey bees are rarely aggressive when compared to wasps, hornets and yellow jackets.
With all this in mind, it’s best to deter bees, rather than trying to destroy them. You simply want to make them find another source of food, and here are some ideas:
- Watch for leaks. Eliminate any leaks in the hummingbird feeder. The fewer leaks, the fewer chances there are to attract bees. You can also opt for a Top-Fill Hummingbird Feeder, which offers new and improved leak-proof gaskets (as well as natural bee guards).
- Be a gatekeeper. Use feeders with Bee Guards. These tiny cages keep bees away while allowing hummingbirds to reach their nectar.
- Confuse them. Remove your feeders for a few days and then relocate them. This breaks up the memory of where the feeders are, and it could take them a while to find the feeders again.
- New mixture. Reduce the ratio of sugar in your hummingbird nectar by adding extra water. By making the nectar less attractive to bees, they will move on. Your hummingbirds have a much longer memory and will stick around!
Ants at Hummingbird Feeders
Just like flying insects, many varieties of ants will be interested in the sugary taste of hummingbird nectar. These pests rarely bother hummingbirds, but their persistence can easily drain a feeder in a few days.
Luckily, there are a few options for keeping ants away from hummingbird feeders.
- Ant Moats. This design feature is available on many hummingbird feeders. Basically, the ant moat creates a ring of water around a feeder’s hanging hook. Since ants can’t swim, they can’t get to the nectar. Only a small amount of water is needed to stop the ants, and the moat can be filled manually or by the rain. If your feeder doesn’t come with a built-in ant-moat, they’re easy to create with the lid of a spray paint can, a cork and two standard wall hooks.
- Ant Guard®. Perky-Pet® offers the Ant Guard®, a feeder mount with repellent included in it. The simple device deters ants from climbing down to the feeder.
Praying Mantises at Hummingbird Feeders
It’s quite rare, but several videos and photos have surfaced that show praying mantises attacking hummingbirds at feeders.
Experts theorize these attacks are opportunistic rather than instinctual. The mantises are likely on the feeder to ambush other bugs rather than birds, but when a hummingbird gets too close the mantises say, “Hmmmm. Let’s give it a try.”
Despite these instances, it’s important to remember that praying mantises are extremely beneficial bugs and prefer to prey upon insects that can hurt gardens, flowerbeds and trees.
To keep a praying mantis away from a hummingbird feeder, don’t kill it. Instead, just relocate the mantis out of sight of the hummingbird feeder.
What Not to Do
Over the years, we’ve heard a lot of suggestions for keeping insects away from hummingbird feeders. Many can be dangerous to birds. Consider these rules as you attempt to fight bugs at hummingbird feeders:
- Do not smear any substance on to a hummingbird feeder, hanging wire or pole. We’ve heard many people suggest dabbing petroleum jelly, hand creams, oil or grease on hummingbird feeders, their hanging wires or mounting poles in an effort to deter insects. Please don’t! Hummingbirds frequently bump into these objects as they fly. These substances can be absorbed into feathers and make it difficult to fly. A gummy substance can also get stuck on their bill, making it impossible to open.
- Do not put tape on a hummingbird feeder. Hummingbirds are not very strong and if they collide with a taped feeder, they could easily get trapped by the adhesive.
- Do not spray a hummingbird feeder with insecticide. The insecticide or repellent could accidentally mix with the nectar over time, which could harm your hummingbirds’ health.
- Do not create a bait feeder for insects. Doing so will allow insect colonies to grow stronger and more demanding in the food they need.
The Battle with Bugs
The conflict between bugs and hummingbirds is indeed a two-way struggle! Plenty of these birds include insects and spiders as a primary part of their diet, but many insects compete with hummingbirds for nectar. It’s a cycle that’s just part of the greater role all animals serve – with one species relying on another.
In the same way, we’ve come to rely on the hummingbirds that visit our bird feeders. We find them relaxing to watch, inspiring in their beauty and exciting to observe as they go about their daily routines. By following these tips and ideas, you can help your hummingbirds lead a healthy, bug-free life!
Happy birds = Happy bird watching!
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