Bees and Wasps at Nectar Feeders

Just like hummingbirds, bees, wasps, yellow jackets, and other stinging things love sugar water. In late summer, they can swarm a nectar feeder, deterring or even driving off hummingbirds. What to do?

Rufous hummingbird

Rufous hummingbird at a nectar feeder equipped with bee guards, plastic mesh devices that fit over the drinking ports.

First of all, if your nectar feeder does not have bee guards, consider replacing it with one that does. Bee guards are usually yellow plastic mesh devices that fit over drinking ports on some nectar feeders. They don’t prevent bees from getting to the nectar, but they make it difficult. Bees can swarm feeders without bee guards, but they really can’t swarm those with them.

Here’s another approach. Fill a jar lid with the same sugar-water solution you use to fill your nectar feeder, and place it below or within a few feet of your nectar feeder. Bees can more easily drink from a jar lid than from any hummingbird feeder, and will prefer to use it. Every night, when the bees are not using the jar lid, move it a few feet farther from your hummingbird feeder. Use the jar lid to attract the bees away from the feeder. Obviously, don’t move the bees to a place where children or pets play!

Also, try to keep the outside of your nectar feeder clean, especially near the ports. If the outside of your feeder is sweet and sticky, it will draw bees. You might want to rinse or wipe off the area under the ports daily. If they’re going to take advantage of your nectar feeder, make it difficult for them!

Here’s what NOT to do: Use pesticides to kill bees. Along with wasps and yellow jackets, honeybees are frequent visitors to hummingbird feeders. They are an important pollinator whose numbers are on the decline. Please do not use pesticides to kill bees—ever. It’s also not a good idea to use toxins anywhere near hummingbirds.

These techniques are adapted from the book Hummingbirds and Butterflies, by Bill Thompson, III, and Connie Toops, and available for sale at the BWD Nature Shop.

These methods aren’t fool proof, but should reduce the problem. Good luck!

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