|Dish-style hummingbird feeders are less likely to drip. Photo by J.J. Meyer|
Here's my column from today's Orange County Register:
As summer heats up, so do pest problems at nectar feeders. The sugary solution used to attract hummingbirds and orioles can also become a magnet for ants, bees and wasps.
These stinging pests drive birds away from the feeders and create a potentially hazardous situation for bird lovers. And the problem seems to be increasing as the drought continues.
“It was a concern last year, but not to the degree we’ve seen this year,” said Dave Brandt, co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Mission Viejo.
The increased number of customers with complaints of bee problems prompted the staff at the nature store to print out information sheets on how to deter bees from feeders.
Tips include keeping the nectar fresh and feeders squeaky clean. Since fermented sugar water is more likely to attract more insects than hummingbirds, the staff recommends changing nectar every two to three days in warm weather. After hanging the fresh nectar, they also advise cleaning off sugary drips on the outside of the feeder so bees won’t be attracted to the sweet scent.
Sometimes moving the feeder to a new location is enough to foil the bees, Brandt said. A shady location is best, but keep feeders away from flowering plants and shrubs. If bees persist, take the feeder down for three days, then reintroduce it in a new location, he said.
Bee guards can be fitted into the feeding ports of many types of feeders. Hummingbirds can still access the nectar, but these small plastic caps create a barrier for bees and wasps. Bird enthusiasts can also consider purchasing a basin, or dish-style feeder that inherently denies access to bees, he said. These hummingbird feeders look like flying saucers or covered bowls with ports on top. The nectar level is generally too low to allow bees and wasps to reach. These feeders are also less likely to drip than gravity-fed nectar feeders.
Brandt cautions against home remedies that tout cooking oil, Vaseline or Avon’s Skin So Soft around feeder ports to inhibit bees. These oily substances can be damaging to bird feathers, he said.
“During these drought conditions, bees are also looking for water,” he said. So try offering a shallow dish of water to draw them away from the feeder.
Keeping ants at bay is also important because they contaminate the nectar as their bodies decompose. Ant moats filled with water are a simple solution. Just hang above the feeder to create a chemical-free barrier. And avoid using pesticides, which can be harmful to the birds.