Hummingbirds are attracted to a sweet nectar recipe, but so are ants, bees, hornets, wasps, and other sugar-loving insects. Hummingbirds are aggressive feeders and likely won't be deterred by a few bees or ants here and there, but when too many bugs feed on the sugar water, it becomes contaminated and less attractive to hummingbirds. In extreme cases, dozens or hundreds of insects may monopolize a feeder, preventing birds from visiting at all.
Fortunately, there are many easy and safe control techniques to help deter insects like bees and wasps from hummingbird feeders without harming the birds. Try one or more of these natural tactics to discourage stinging insects from harassing your hummingbirds.
Pesticide sprays and household oils (vegetable, mineral, or non-stick sprays) should never be used to deter insects from hummingbird feeders because they are dangerous for the birds. Even small amounts of chemicals can kill hummingbirds, and oils can coat their feathers, making it difficult—or even impossible—for them to fly.
Choose a Bug-Proof Feeder
Some types of hummingbird feeders are less insect-friendly than others. Saucer feeders, for example, position nectar away from the feeding port and insects are unable to get to it, while hummingbirds with their long tongues have no trouble.
Other feeder designs include built-in ant moats or bee guards designed to keep insects from accessing the nectar without stopping hummingbirds. If feeders don't have these safeguards built into the design, extra accessories are available to add those features to any nectar feeder.
Relocate the Feeder
Once hummingbirds find a food source, they will visit it frequently and will look around nearby for additional feeders. Insects are likely to only visit convenient food sources and are less inclined to search for relocated feeders.
Moving the feeder just a few feet can minimize insect visitors without discouraging hummingbirds. This is easy to accomplish, especially in a yard with multiple feeding stations.
Avoid Yellow Feeders
Wasps and bees are attracted to the color yellow but do not find red as appealing. Avoid feeders with yellow insect guards or flower accents to minimize the feeders’ attractiveness to insects. If your feeder comes with yellow accents, repaint the accents with red, non-toxic paint. On some feeders, these yellow parts can easily be removed without impacting how well the feeder works.
Keep the Feeder Clean
As birds feed, drips of nectar will inevitably fall from their bills onto the feeder. Feeders can also drip if they are filled too full, as the air pressure inside the feeder will force the nectar out of the feeding ports when it heats up.
Each time the feeder is refilled, carefully clean the outside and around the feeding ports to remove spilled nectar, and take steps to minimize leaks to avoid the mess that can attract insects.
Use Insect Traps
Commercial insect traps are available to reduce overall insect populations in the yard. While these can be effective deterrents, use them sparingly so you do not disrupt the insects’ place in your yard's ecosystem. Only choose traps that target the most problematic insects, and remove traps as soon as the feeder is no longer being troubled.
Hang Feeders Carefully
Ants may climb a pole to reach a nectar feeder, so hang the feeder from a branch or gutter instead. Using some fishing line to hang the feeder is another option, as the line is too thin for most ants to crawl to access the feeder.
Keep the Feeder Shaded
Most flying insects prefer to feed in full sunlight, so make nectar feeders less attractive by hanging them in a shadier spot. This will also keep the nectar cooler and slow fermentation, which can cause the nectar to go bad and harm the birds, as well as minimize leaks.
Offer Substitute Feeders
If you hope to keep bees away from hummingbird feeders but still want them around for your flowers or garden, offer the bees a substitute feeder with a sweeter sugar water solution.
- Sugar solution for honeybees can be made up of two parts water to one part sugar in the spring and summer and one part water to one part sugar in the fall.
- Place the diversion feeder, preferably a yellow one, in an obvious, sunny location, close to nectar rich flowers, while using additional techniques to protect the hummingbird feeder.
- Be sure to keep your hummingbird feeders full and available as well, since the more sugary syrup will attract these little birds along with the bees.
Avoid Other Attractions
Bees, wasps, and ants are naturally attracted to other features of your yard, including plants and flowers. This is highly desirable for a healthy garden, but avoid uncovered trash, sticky soda cans, piles of manure, and other things the insects may also find attractive. This will minimize their unintended food sources and keep insect populations under control.
Not All Insects Are Bad
Not all insects are bad in a hummingbird garden, even if they do occasionally visit nectar feeders. Bees help pollinate flowers that can attract even more birds, and all these insects can be valuable food sources for other birds.
Simple, safe techniques can manage insects so they do not bother hummingbird feeders while still remaining as a valuable part of a natural ecosystem.