Search

The Hummingbird Versus the Honeybee

Published on: Aug. 6, 2010

honeybee on flowerhummingbird in flight

My “Ask the Ombudman” column in the August Missouri Conservationist magazine has generated a number of comments/complaints from readers. I answered a question that I receive frequently each summer: “How do I keep the honeybees away from my hummingbird feeder?” I thought it was an innocent enough topic, but it struck a chord with many readers, similar to when a violin string breaks in mid-concert.

One group of readers, the pro-honeybee faction, resented the fact that honeybees would ever be considered a problem, because they are useful pollinators of many plants and they aren’t as plentiful as they used to be. I shouldn’t have bought in to the characterization of their feeding on hummingbird nectar as a problem. To that group I say that I agree honeybees are important pollinators. Of course they do no pollinating when they obtain their nectar from bird feeders instead of from flowers.

Another group of readers, the anti-dilutionists, did not like my recommendation that the 1:4 ratio of sugar to water for the nectar be diluted to 1:5 to make it less attractive to bees. They argued that the more concentrated nectar was vital to keep the hummers in good shape for migration. My response is that the nectar the birds obtain from flowers is not uniform in its sugar concentration. It can vary by plant species, time of day and the amount of recent rainfall. I expect that if no hummingbird feeders were ever made available to the birds, they would still accomplish their annual migrations and reproduction just fine.

The cumbayah faction prefers that humans not interfere and instead allow the bees and hummers to live in peaceful coexistence at the feeders. But it was the humans who were contacting me for advice, and that nectar-filled hummingbird feeder has “human involvement” written all over it. Without humans there would be no hummingbird feeders, the birds would get their nectar from flowers, and the honeybees would still be in Europe where they came from.

Anyway, I enjoyed the feedback and was glad to address a topic of strong interest to our readers. Just don’t ask me to predict which topics will prompt readers to respond.

Key Messages: 

We help people discover nature.

Comments

On November 12th, 2010 at 10:05pm Little Giant Beekeepers said:

I love the suggestions for attracting hummingbirds vs bees - I think my customers will find this information extremely interesting - Thanks for the great article.

On August 28th, 2010 at 9:46am Jan Primas said:

The 8 hummingbird feeders I have hanging across my front porch are an essential part of our lives from April thru Sept. each year. We enjoy the hummers daily and our family and friends who visit delight in their antics. I read somewhere that coating the ports on the feeders with olive oil would discourage the bees/wasps. I have found that it does. By this time of the summer and I am using 2 gallons of mixture each day. It is not unusual to see 50-70 birds at our feeders, especially early in the am and just before dusk. My human involvement will continue as long as I can afford the sugar and maintain the feeders to the satisfaction of the hummers.

On August 20th, 2010 at 1:55pm Anonymous said:

Well written, Tim. Hopefully, you took a bit of solace too from finding out that a lot of folks actually read what you have written, are passionate about your chosen subject matter too and care enough to take the time to write and send you a comment. Kudos for your effort to take all the feed-back in, process it with respect, cull the emotional element, add a touch of witty humor, and herd everyone to the more realistic and logical side of being a human being in, more often than not, an unnatural environment.

On August 9th, 2010 at 7:50am Kutter said:

Agree, funny article showing you can't please everyone. However, these writings here are pretty close.

On August 8th, 2010 at 8:05pm Scott Gough said:

Thanks for the good laugh!!! I needed that.

On August 8th, 2010 at 5:21pm Tess Smith said:

There is always the other group of us who are allergic to bee stings who wish they would stay on their flowers and pollinate and leave us alone. Wonder what the cumbayah group would have to say about that?! Don't worry their will always be those who don't agree with you. Just take satisfaction in knowing there are just as may of us who agree with you without stipulations. Just keep doing what your doing we love the Conservation Magazine. My husband waits for it each month with bated breath. The grandkids love it too, they're all animals lovers. : )

On August 8th, 2010 at 11:21am Jeannie said:

I'm going to continue my human involvement just because I love watching the hummingbirds. The bees, wasps and ants are less fun but I'll continue on. They are amazing birds. I will continue to plant flowers to attract them also but I don't have enough blooms all the time for the hummers. Cute article but I wasn't surprised at the responses...
Shortened URL
http://mdc.mo.gov/node/9453