You’ve probably seen bees and wasps hovering around your hummingbird feeder more than once. The only logical explanation is that they want that sweet, sweet nectar that hummingbirds covet.
Bees and wasps feed on the sugary nectar found inside of hummingbird feeders. They are attracted to most anything that contains simple sugars. The sugary nectar placed inside of your hummingbird feeder is an easy and common meal for both bees and wasps.
If you don’t keep the bees and wasps away from your hummingbird feeder, you’ll end up seeing fewer hummingbirds in your lawn and many more bees and wasps. To help you deal with this problem, this article will cover 9 easy ways to keep bees and wasps away from your hummingbird feeder.
Why Do Bees & Wasps Eat From Your Hummingbird Feeder?
Sugary hummingbird nectar isn’t bees, nor wasps absolute first preferred food source (although they do love sugar), but after the weather breaks in the spring, they’ll forage almost anything. Often times, bees prefer to either eat honey or pollinate and consume nectar from flowers.
Wasps eat a variety of different things, such as meat from other insects, in addition to nectar.
Most common species of wasps don’t make their own honey or carry pollen efficiently, so they consume their nectar from sugary drinks, beehives, and yes – hummingbird feeders.
A significant diet of hummingbirds revolves around nectar from flowers and other sources (such as hummingbird feeders), in addition to insects and the occasional accidental pollen pickup.
Naturally, as you can now guess, there is a bit of overlap between the two primary food sources for bees, wasps, and hummingbirds.
Of course, there are many other creatures on Earth that consume nectar too (we harvest honey from bees for heck’s sake).
This battle for food only worsens the massive decline in the bee population every year, which has exceeded 30% since 2006. Without the bees, it’ll be impossible for plants and trees to grow naturally, which hummingbirds need for their habitat.
At first glance, wasps don’t seem to do much good but in actuality, they play a large roll in helping to maintain the worldwide insect population by eating arachnoids and other available insects.
You can prevent help spread the resources between hummingbirds, bees and wasps by keeping the bees out of hummingbird feeders.
How to Keep Bees and Wasps Out of Hummingbird Feeders
It goes without saying, but to be clear, the tips that I’m about to share with you will only deter bees and wasps. We don’t want to use pesticides in this instance because of the potential harm this could have to bees.
All of these methods are natural, effective ways to keep bees and wasps out of hummingbird feeders. We want to avoid pesticides here because we should all do our part in minimizing the phenomenon that experts refer to as colony collapse disorder or CCD, which can potentially be caused by pesticides and result in bees abandoning a hive.
Tip #1 – Use No-Insect Feeders
Some hummingbird feeders unintentionally attract insects by being easily accessible, while others are less inviting. If you’re building your bird feeders using DIY materials, it would be best to position the nectar tray away from the feeding port and make it less accessible to insects.
Most commercial hummingbird feeders don’t have this feature, but you can buy modular accessories that allow you to add these safeguards.
Hummingbirds shouldn’t have a problem accessing the nectar, but it’ll be less attractive to bees and wasps. There are a handful of feeders that are designed to specifically guard against bees and wasps.
A good starting option is the Perky-Pet 203CPBN Pinch Waist Glass Hummingbird Feeder. It comes with built-in bee and wasps protectors that make it extremely difficult for flying creatures outside of hummingbirds to access the nectar.
If bees can’t access the nectar from the feeder, they’ll just move on and look for another alternative source until spring flowers bloom. This technique solves their vicious battle for food and is one of the best and safest ways to maintain your yard’s ecosystem.
Tip #2 – Slip Nectar Guard Tips Over Feeder Holes
The nectar guard or bee guard is a modular accessory that you can install on your hummingbird feeder. If you don’t want to get a whole new feeder, you can buy a commercial nectar guard to keep the insects out of your hummingbird feeder.
If that’s not an option, it’s okay! You can build your nectar guard from an onion bag or a mesh fabric. The idea is to make the nectar less accessible to insects without disrupting their place in your yard’s ecosystem.
Hummingbirds can still access the nectar even with the guard, but you don’t have to use it permanently because it’ll be easier for them without the mesh. Some bird watchers use this when spring starts, then remove it as soon as the bees or wasps already have their preferred food source.
You’ll have to do some searching for a guard that looks like it’ll fit in the holes of your current hummingbird feeder if that’s the route you’re going.
As an alternative, I would suggest that you dissasemble your hummingbird feeder and place some fine, stainless steel mesh underneath the holes so that bees cant get to the nectar, but hummingbirds can.
You can use mesh like this TIMESETL 304 Stainless Steel Woven Wire here.
Tip #3 – Keep the Hummingbird Feeder Clean
Feeders aren’t for set-it-and-forget-it arrangement. When hummingbirds feed on it, there’s an opportunity for the nectar to splash around and potentially crystalize due to the high sugar volume.
When the hummingbird feeder heats up, the air pressure from the inside will force the nectar out of the feeding ports. The next thing that you’ll see are bees foraging on the spillover. You’ll have the same problem, despite the safeguards you’ve installed on the hummingbird feeder.
So, every time you refill the feeder, make it a point to clean the exterior to get rid of spilled nectar. You also need to check for cracks or holes because the more leaks your feeder has, the more attractive it becomes for bees.
If you want to lessen the trouble and wouldn’t mind spending some shekels, you can opt for a Top-Fill Feeder with Bee Guard and leak-proof gasket like the Perky Pet feeder mentioned above.
Tip #4 – Choose Red Hummingbird Feeders
Unlike some drivers, bees, and other insects that forage on bird feeders understand that red means stop. Unfortunately, a lot of parts that you can use for bird feeders are yellow, which is one of the most attractive colors for bees and wasps as it resembles their preferred food source — flowers.
You don’t want to use yellow-colored parts on your feeders, so it would be best if you’ll build hummingbird feeders instead. You can get rid, or at least minimize, the yellow accents by repainting the parts with red, non-toxic paint.
In actuality, its not specifically the color yellow that bees are attracted to, but its most all lighter colors that resemble floral patterns.
Modular feeders might also have yellow colors, especially with the insect guard and nectar tray. If you’re having issues, then you may want to revisit your entire feeder without having to dismantle the feeder then go through a series of trial and error.
IMPORTANT: If you’re using a feeder like the Perky Pet Hummingbird Feeder, don’t alter any of the accents as they’re designed as is to keep bees and wasps from getting into the feeder.
Tip #5 – Periodically Move The Hummingbird Feeders
Bees always keep a routine. They prefer to feed and work on the same spot every time. They’re less inclined to regularly look for food, and would rather stay in places with a stable and easily accessible source.
If you move the hummingbird feeders by about three to four feet away from the previous spot, the hummingbirds will still find it, but not bees.
Regularly doing this will confuse the bees, and it’ll take some time before they locate it again — hopefully, enough time for spring flowers to appear and provide them with their preferred food source (although they’d still come back to the nectar once and a while).
You don’t have to move the feeders every time. A lot of homeowners only move their hummingbird feeders as soon as they notice that bees or wasps are foraging on the nectar inside the feeders. It’s an easy, safe, and effective way of keeping the feeders bee and (and hopefully wasp) free.
Tip #6 – Avoid Bee Attractions in Your Yard
The lack of food source is one of the reasons why bees and wasps are foraging on on your hummingbird feeder. Plants and flowers are also attractive for bees, but it’s okay because it keeps the balance in your yard’s ecosystem.
What you need to avoid when trying to keep the bee population in your yard under control is the unnecessary attractions.
Bees, wasps, and other insects will always search for food in places like uncovered trash, sticky soda cans, and piles of manure.
A good rule of thumb when trying to avoid unnecessary attractions for bees and wasps is to keep your yard clean. By doing this, you keep your yard’s bee and wasp population in check, and easier to manage when they’re out looking for a food source.
Additionally, by making your yard look nice and spiffy, you’ll be able to help prevent a plethora of other critters from wanting to visit your yard as well. It’s a win win!
Tip #7 – Try Diluting Your Nectar Mixture
The nectar on your hummingbird feeder is the best alternative food that bees and wasps can find while waiting for spring flowers. However, if you make the mixture less appealing for them, it’ll be easier to keep them out and prevent them from foraging on the feeders.
You can try reducing the sweetness of the mixture by adding some water. If reduced enough, it will help to keep the hummingbirds around while deterring the bees from wanting something sweeter.
The downside to this is that you may have to play with the mixture for quite some time to get it just right and to the point where you aren’t losing visitors in the form of hummingbirds as well.
Sweet tooth hummingbirds have longer memory spans. They will always go back to where their food source is and most likely wouldn’t mind feeding on a less sweet mixture that you’ve prepared for them.
Tip #8 – Use Organic Materials to Keep Them Off
The main concern for experts is the constant decline of the bee population since 2006. So aside from the modifications that you can do with hummingbird feeders, you can also use organic materials when trying to deter bees and wasps. It’ll help you make your feeders less attractive to these insects without contributing to their declining population.
Some birdkeepers prefer to use a combination of organic materials to deter bees, and modifications in the bird feeders to keep them out. Here are some of the natural deterrents that you can use in conjunction with the tips that I shared earlier:
- Cinnamon has reports of working well against a variety of insects as a form of natural deterrent. However, the empirical evidence for using cinnamon to deter bees and wasps is lacking.
That being said, it can still be useful to try as a natural alternative if none of the other above options work to keep bees and wasps away from your hummingbird feeder.
Install several containers with small holes on its lid filled with cinnamon, then place them around the hummingbird feeders. It should effectively deter bees and or wasps, but you may have to refill it daily to maintain its effectiveness until the bees/wasps find their preferred food source.
- Pine essential oil I have no empirical evidence for this one. However, many insects and even bears dislike the scent of pine oil. It may be worth a shot using some pine oil near your bird feeder as a test.
- Peppermint essential oil was shown to be effective in deterring wasps in one study. For more effectiveness, you can use something like peppermint essential oil and spray a mixture on parts of your hummingbird feeder. Again, there isn’t too much empirical evidence to support peppermint against bees or wasps but it’s worth a shot.
- Pennyroyal essential oil, in the same study where peppermint oil was found to be effective (and 15 other essential oils including the two) can be used to repel wasps. Dilute a bit of the essential oil and spray it near your hummingbird feeder for added effectiveness.
- Cucumber peel releases a pungent smell that can have a deterrent effect on bees and wasps. Unfortunately, this is an area of research that is wide open! One of the only studies in regards to using cucumber peel as a deterrent is one that states insects prefer not to lay their eggs on cucumber peels. According to the theories, there there is a certain molecule on the skin of a cucumber that is extremely bitter to most insects.
Cutting up some cucumber peels into small pieces and placing and them on top of your hummingbird feeder may help to deter both bees and wasps. Hummingbird watchers may prefer this method because it’s a very cost-effective way to deter these insects from getting on the feeders!
Don’t Do This When Trying to Deter Bees and Wasps
There are extreme cases where hundreds of bees or wasps (more than likely wasps) swarm into hummingbird feeders to forage on bird seeds. They’ll monopolize the area and hummingbirds may not even bother to visit the feeders that you prepared for them.
Wasps tend more to swarm when they’ve been provoked. For instance, my father recently told me a story where he was mowing in our backyard and accidentally mowed over an underground yellow jacket nest.
He noticed a few wasps around his head while he was turning back with the mower. Out of suspicion, he turned around and immediately saw that there was a group of wasps who were beginning to gather themselves to SWARM.
Safe to say, he ditched our mower and sprinted towards the house, which was more than 100 yards away at the time.
So, that brings me to my next point of some things you should try NOT to do and that I don’t recommend doing for these circumstances:
Don’t Try to Spray Bees If Possible
Yes, don’t try to spray bees if you can help it. If you need to, you need to (contact a professional for consultation).
Bees play a vital role in our ecosystem. Unless provoked, bees aren’t highly likely to sting you (honeybees in particular, can’t survive after stinging) and aren’t as aggressive as other wasps that might forage on your hummingbird feeders. They still can, but they tend not to unless they feel threatened.
Instead of trying to get rid of bees permanently, it would be best to offer them a substitute food source until spring flowers appear.
Wasps and hornets are more reasons to take action against due to their aggressiveness and likelihood of stinging. Before deciding whether or not to remove wasps, please consult a local professional before taking any steps!
Try to Avoid Using Pesticides
There is a time and place to use both pesticides and insecticides. Against bees, It’ll contribute to the decline of the bee population, and can make your hummingbird feeders less attractive to hummingbirds in the process.
Instead of using pesticides, you may want to consider the natural methods listed above to deter bees from foraging on your bird seeds.
Wasp insecticide, however, is a very popular method of removing wasps (again, please consult a professional before taking action on wasps or bees).
It may be useful to get rid of them, but you need to spray it directly on them for it to work. Wasps specifically will release a defense pheromone that puts the rest of the bees into a frenzy.
Using slippery substances, like olive oil, petroleum jelly, or baby oil, is a common practice that a lot of birdkeepers do when trying to deter bees from foraging on their bird seeds. Although it can work against bees and wasps, it may cause harm to your feathered-friends as well. These substances stick to their feathers, making it difficult for them to preen and fly.
To Wrap Things Up
Bees and wasps foraging on hummingbird feeders may cause a rise, especially when you see them coming back to the samee feeder day after day while you lose out on the traffic from hummingbirds.
Dealing with bees and wasps foraging on hummingbird nectar is unique because it isn’t your typical infestation since they’re going after an open food source that YOU techincally put out.
The more we understand bees’ behavior when feeding, the more techniques we develop in deterring and preserving their population.
Khoury, D. S., Myerscough, M. R., & Barron, A. B. (2011). A quantitative model of honey bee colony population dynamics. PloS one, 6(4).
Tallamy, D. W., Stull, J., Ehresman, N. P., Gorski, P. M., & Mason, C. E. (1997). Cucurbitacins as feeding and oviposition deterrents to insects. Environmental Entomology, 26(3), 678-683.
Zhang, Q. H., Schneidmiller, R. G., & Hoover, D. R. (2013). Essential oils and their compositions as spatial repellents for pestiferous social wasps. Pest management science, 69(4), 542-552.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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