The other day, I was looking through some old issues of the American Bee Journal. In the May 2011 issue, there was an article on urban beekeeping. It talked about various things one can do to be a good neighbor while keeping bees.
One part of the article dealt with hummingbirds and bees. This got me to thinking about the relationship between beekeeping and hummingbirds in Houston.
For over 20 years, I have recorded the dates hummingbirds visit Houston. Those dates are posted on my website (www.burger.com), because people are always asking me when the hummingbirds will show up. Hummingbirds come to Houston for a few weeks in the spring as the migrate north and for many weeks in the fall as they migrate to Mexico for the winter.
My records show that one can expect to see the fall migration starting in late July. Thus, we should be prepared to put out hummingbird feeders immediately.
As you know, hummingbird feeder use sugar syrup as their liquid. Whereas sugar syrup for bees is a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water (by weight), hummingbirds prefer a more dilute mix of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water (by volume).
Although hummingbird feeders come in various shapes and sizes, I have found the best feeders to be either the Four Fountain Feeders by Perky Pet (also known as the Pinch Waist Glass 8 oz) or the “Best-1 32 oz Hummingbird Feeder.” Both feeders are available at local hardware stores and on amazon.com.
The “ good neighbor” problem with the fall hummingbird migration is that if there is a lack of rain during August and September, the bees may be looking for alternative sources of nectar and find the sugar syrup in your neighbor’s hummingbird feeder to be easy pickings.
Just as you don’t want your neighbor to call saying that your bees have swarmed onto their front porch, you don’t want them to call to complain that your bees are running off all the hummingbirds they have been waiting for all summer.
A bee’s proboscis is about 1/4” in length. Hummingbirds have beaks that are 9/16” or longer, and they can extend their tongues as far out from the beak as the beak is long. This means that it is unlikely that the bees can get to the sugar syrup in the A-1 best feeder, but they are sorely tempted by the Four Fountain model. In fact, the yellow pieces are called “bee guards.” Still, honey bees are often drawn to the hummingbird feeders by the smell of the sugar syrup. As reported in the May 2011 issue of the American Bee Journal, one way to keep the bees away is to wipe a drop or two of mineral oil around the feeding ports. This keeps the bees away and does not harm the hummingbirds.
I recommend you buy a bottle of mineral oil so that you will have it on hand if you get the call that your bees have taken over your neighbors hummingbird feeder. It’s just another way we can encourage good relationships between our bees and the city dwellers (and hummingbirds) that share our urban landscapes.
This article originally appeared in the July, 2015, issue of The Skep, the newsletter of the Houston Beekeepers Association.
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