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How to Keep Bees Away From Hummingbird Feeders

hornetThe biggest problem we face each year is that our resident hornets also want some of that nice, sweet, sugar water we put out for the hummingbirds.

Call us crazy, call us protective, but we’ve been known to stand guard with a fly swatter to chase the hornets away from the feeders. The past two years, the hornet population appears to have increased. Those nasty hornets literally dive bomb the birds, block the feeding portals and will chase the birds away from their own feeders.

OK, before anyone lectures me on bees, it would seem most Googlers call all yellow and black flying things bees. I would never recommend killing bees, we need them. But, hornets are a different story entirely.

We’ve tried a few commercial hornet traps – they could escape from one and we never saw any even go into the other.

We’ve tried soda bottles full of all sorts of stuff from our fridge. We just dumped whatever we had together. Grape jelly mixed with maple syrup, sugar and wine appears to be a favorite. We did everything we could to make the bait absolutely the most sweetest, almost toxic brew we could come up with. The idea being, the more over-the-top sweet it was, the less likely the hummers or bees would be attracted to it. We did end up catching a few gnats, a couple of flies and other assorted little mystery bugs but the honeybees didn’t touch the stuff.

Homemade Hornet Trap 1

Take a single-serve, plastic soda bottle. Use a phillips-head screwdriver or awl to make a hole in the screw-top lid just big enough for a hornet to squeeze through. Then put a variety of sweet liquids and sugar in the bottle but fill it only about half-way.

The idea is that the hornets go into the bottle to get the sweet drink but can’t figure their way back out. The hornets eventually drown in the sugary mix. Make it crazy sweet and the hummingbirds won’t go near it.

Some suggest adding a drop of soap. The soap changes the surface tension of the water, making it impossible for the hornets to float on the surface. Whenever we added soap to our soda bottles, even just a few drops, they avoided it. We tried floral-scented, lemon-scented and even unscented soaps. They avoided all of them.

Homemade Hornet Trap 2

Hornets, by their nature are extremely aggressive, even with each other. They often wrestle with each other over the feeder. They are so intent on fighting that they were falling to the porch railing or even the ground.

On a whim, I put a wash tub of soapy water under our feeders. The silly hornets were so intent on fighting each other that they would fall into the water – it’s kinda hard for them to remain airborne while grappling with each other. They drowned within seconds. It proved the most effective of everything we tried. It was the cheapest and easiest thing we tried.

A photo of a flying Vespula vulgaris. Taken by Soebe in Northern Germany and released under GNU FDL.

Have you learned any tricks on how to keep bees away from hummingbird feeders?

I would love to know what worked for you and what didn’t.

About this post…

This article is the second of a three-part series of articles on our backyard ruby throated hummingbirds. This one covers How to Keep Bees Away From Hummingbird Feeder. The other articles are ruby throated hummingbirds in North Carolina and How to Make Hummingbird Food. They were originally published as a single, comprehensive piece on a community-driven website in the spring of 2013. Like much of the web, things change and we have to adapt. So, I’ve moved the information to OurHerbGarden.com along with many of the wonderful comments and conversation that occurred on the other website.

Posted in Backyard Visitors | 14 Comments

14 Responses to How to Keep Bees Away From Hummingbird Feeders

  1. hotsquid says:

    We used to put out feeders for hummingbird. Not anymore because of too many ants. Nice articles!

    • Michele says:

      Yes, ants can be a problem. Have you tried greasing the pole or putting a bowl of water around the base? The biggest trick we’ve learned is if you don’t spill any of the sugar water near the feeder, the ants don’t seem to find it as much.

  2. CK says:

    I’m surprised you have bees in your header then talk about hornets: there is a huge difference between the two. Without bees we wouldn’t have any flowering or fruit plants. You WANT bees in your garden.

    Hornets are a different issue. But with the state that bees are in – a total crisis – we should be giving them as much support as possible and deal with hornets separately.

    • Michele says:

      Hi CK. Yes, I mentioned bees in the article title and then primarily focus on hornets. I’ve found that many folks call any insect that looks or acts like a bee, a bee. When we first encountered the hornets in our garden, I remember searching for something like bees that live in the ground. 😉

      I agree that we should do everything to encourage honeybees to visit our gardens. Hornets, not so much. While the techniques I shared for keeping hornets away from hummingbird feeders do tend to trap some other insects too, the bees seem to stay clear. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve really seen bees around the feeders, just hornets and ants.

      Thanks for your comment.

  3. Elaine says:

    I hang hummingbird feeders outside the window. I take a lid off those plastic bins and set it below the feeder filled with water. Then if they drip, it keeps the ants away because they don’t go in the water. The glass feeders drip when it’s hot, but the plastic ones don’t. The yellow jackets were all over the oriole feeder last year and the grape jelly, so I put grape jelly on a plastic bin lid and let a hundred of them go at it. Then I slowly and carefully place the bin over the lid trapping them. Then I don’t open the bin for a couple weeks. Bees and bumble bees don’t go near the grape jelly, but hornets, wasps and yellow jackets do. I let them, then trap them until there numbers dwindle. My problem is mosquitos. We live in a forest. We live near farms. It’s brutal at times. We can fog cuz of wildlife and crops. We plant basil and citronella, but there is too many. Had a mosquito catcher that cost $700., but it broke after four years and the two things you need to run it are costly, plus you need a propane tank running it as well. Now what?

    • Elaine says:

      I meant CAN’T fog for mosquitos

      • Michele says:

        Sounds like your trapping technique involves getting a bit close to a frenzied horde of yellow jackets. That would send my Mom into orbit if I even left the house. lol

        Mosquitos, oh don’t get me started on those evil critters. Believe me if I had a solution to share, I would patent it.

        A $700 bug zapper? Clearly you are plagued by the nasty bloodsuckers. I did see a clever tent-like structure on Facebook recently. Don’t remember what it was but it was basically a giant mosquito net that would allow you to be outside without being skeeter bait.

        Thanks for visiting and good luck with the mosquitos.

  4. Gemma says:

    A dishpan of soapy water? Who knew? Gotta try this. We too have tried store-bought traps and caught nothing.

  5. Great comments about bees/wasps/hornets etc. HOWEVER, I am also a “BEE” person. I come from England – a U.S. citizen now. BUT, I was taught the difference between all three at an early age. Here, in the U.S. most people call all three insects – “Bees”. NOT the case. I do not have any BEES at my hummingbird feeders – BUT many wasps and hornets. They are driving my wife insane and the birds away ! I have tried everything to get rid of them but nothing seems to work! Does ANYONE at all have an effective way of curing this problem? Spraying with mint extract works for about 5 mins. Changing the ratio of water to sugar for the birds and keeping the same for the wasps – DOES NOT WORK ! HELP !

    • Michele says:

      Christopher, we had great luck with pans and pots of soapy water under the feeders. The following season we had far fewer of these flying demons. Hopefully, with the disruption of their feeding station, they moved to someone else’s yard.

  6. Della says:

    Fun post. Grape jelly, wine, maple syrup and other sickening sweet stuff. Too funny.

  7. Flo says:

    Love your site. Such a great tip!

  8. Donna says:

    If you have feeder hanging on metal post you can rub vasoline on pole to trap or detour ants.

    • Michele says:

      I’ve seen that suggestion on other sites. We tried it and it works for a while but once it rains a few times, the ants just walk over it.

      It rains most afternoons in the summer here. Perhaps in a less rainy climate, vaseline would offer a more effective solution.

      Thanks Donna for the suggestion. Hopefully, it can help others fight the insect invaders.

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