How to keep bees away from hummingbird feeders – organic ways to distract the insect

This time-proven method learns from the most natural of inspirations: flowers. Here's what you can learn from them

Hummingbird at a feeder
(Image credit: GettyImages)

Knowing how to keep bees away from hummingbird feeders may seem like a complex and conflicting problem. While it is vital to preserve bees, it is equally important to ensure the hummingbirds have a space to eat and drink without interruption from this popular insect.

Though you may know where to hang your bird feeder and the best type of food for the beloved creature – the question of keeping bees away from hummingbird feeders may remain a problem. However, you can find the solution by taking a cue from a wholly natural source of inspiration: your flowers

How to keep bees away from hummingbird feeders

The most effective wildlife garden ideas are those that stem directly from nature – so it's unsurprising that this bee-prevention method is backed by experts. Because while you may already have plants for birds in your garden, you can learn from them too. Here's what you need to know.

What can we learn from flowers?

'The most time-proven and natural way of excluding bees from your hummingbird feeders is by using the same method that flowers do,' says Dr. Charles van Rees, Ph.D., a conservation scientist and naturalist from Gulo in Nature (opens in new tab). But how does the process work? 

'Since pollination requires a given animal to visit two flowers of the same species, plants often don't want different kinds of visitors, either,' Dr. Charles says. Therefore, many plants will specialize – in ensuring their flowers have a shape or form that only one particular type of pollinator can access. 'That way, the pollinator has to specialize, too, and the plant's pollen is less likely to end up on a flower of another species, where they don't want it.'

In the US, many flowers 'specialize in hummingbirds', meaning these plants have 'learned' to exclude bees. They do so by making the openings to the nectar too slender for larger bees – and making themselves accessible to a hummingbird's long beak and tongue. 

'You can do the same thing by buying hummingbird feeders with bee guards or by purchasing bee guards to outfit your current feeder,' the expert says. 

Hummingbird at a feeder

(Image credit: GettyImages)

1. Mimic a flower

According to Dr. Charles, you can replicate a flower's technique by making the opening to reach the nectar too small for bees. You can also increase the distance between the opening and the nectar source (so bees can't reach it as easily). ' By all means, steal this idea from the flowers,' he says. 'Those species have been gardening for hummingbirds longer than any of us have.' 

2. Clean your hummingbird feeder

Bees are attracted to hummingbird feeders for sugar that builds up on the surface. So, it is worth keeping the area clean to prevent a collection of excess sugar –especially when filling the feeder. 

'Using too much sugar in your hummingbird food can also cause extra sugar to collect outside of the feeder,' Dr. Charles explains. 'Avoiding these issues will go a long way in keeping bees at bay.'

Hummingbird at a feeder

(Image credit: GettyImages)

3. Provide food alternatives

There are a host of flowers that attract bees – but you can also provide other food or water sources for bees to distract them from the feeder. 'Muddy puddles or birdbaths will also attract them, and placing those features strategically in your garden may be a good distraction for the bees,' Dr. Charles adds. 

'Meanwhile, bee-magnet flowers like various mints, lavender, coneflower, sunflowers, and catnip might also draw their attention away.'

Megan Slack
News Editor

Megan is the News and Trends Editor at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes. As the News Editor, she often focuses on emerging microtrends, sleep and wellbeing stories, and celebrity-focused pieces. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.