As they flit and fly across your landscape, hummingbirds can add a spark of color and excitement. Hanging a hummingbird feeder near a window or patio allows you to enjoy these backyard visitors up close. Unfortunately, bees and wasps, including yellow jackets, can sometimes be drawn to the feeder and scare away the hummers. Don't let such pesky pests ruin your chance to enjoy the beauty of the hummingbird.
Check Your Feeder Design
It all starts with the right hummingbird feeder. One of the best ways to prevent bee and wasp problems, reports The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is using a saucer-shaped hummingbird feeder. The birds suck nectar through ports at the top of the feeder. Their long tongues can reach the sugary nectar at the bottom of the saucer, but the ports are too high for wasps and bees to reach the nectar.
Additionally, harness the power of color. Yellow attracts bees and wasps. Never use feeders colored yellow, or with decorative accents or fake flowers in yellow hues. In contrast, red attracts hummers. An all-red hummingbird feeder will draw the attention of these birds without catching the eyes of insect pests.
It's About Location, Location, Location
Hummingbirds are fast problem solvers. Bees and wasps, not so much. Simply relocating the hummingbird feeder to a new location may solve the insect problem. The hummingbirds will quickly find its new spot while wasps and bees will get confused and not know where to go. Alternatively, take down the feeder for one or two days. This is generally long enough for bees and wasps to forget about the feeder.
Set Up Your Defenses
Garden stores and nurseries sell bee guards for hummingbird feeders. These tiny grates come in red or yellow -- never choose the yellow ones, as yellow attracts the problem insects -- and sit over the feeding tubes on the feeder. The hummingbird's tongue can fit through the grate but the grate blocks insects from poking their heads down the feeding tubes to access the nectar. As their name suggests, bee guards work most effectively against bees and have limited success against wasps.
Working at the Wasp Wash
Keep things clean. Dirty feeders are more likely to experience problems. For example, leaking sugar nectar attracts wasps and bees and can be one of the first things that lure the pests to the feeder. Inspect the feeder regularly for cracks and replace it with a new feeder if any leaks are present. Monitor the feeder on hot days when heat may cause the sugar nectar to expand and overflow out of the feeder. Wipe away drips and leaks as soon as they're noticed. Finally, wash and rinse the outside of the feeder thoroughly every few days.
Set Up a Decoy
As the common saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Set out a yellow bowl -- the color of choice for these pests -- in the sun approximately 6 feet away from the hummingbird feeder. Fill it with an extra-strength sugar solution. Anything that's stronger than a 5-to-1 water-to-sugar ratio is effective wasp and bee bait. The wasps and bees will choose the easily accessible nectar in the yellow bowl over the less-attractive red hummingbird feeder with bee guard installed, leaving the hummingbirds to eat in peace.