This week, I received an email from a customer with the following statement in the subject line, “The bees are back.”
Quoting from the body of his email he wrote, “Looks like it’s that time of year again. I think they are usually going after the corn, but only sunflower in this one.”
Attached to his email was a picture of honey bees swarming a tube feeder with sunflower chips — sunflower seed out of the shell. Bee activity at feeders is not an uncommon occurrence this time of year, and it can present a challenge to birds wanting to eat at seed feeders. Most birds have a healthy fear of bees and don’t want to risk getting stung.
With our daytime temperatures being so mild, bees leave their hive in search of food.
Still, the hunt for food for the bees is a challenge this time of year. Even though our daytime temperatures are balmy, nighttime temperatures are sufficiently cold to prevent native plants from flowering.
The absence of flowers poses a real risk for bees, as there really isn’t much in the way of natural, alternative food sources available to them in the winter months.
Pressed to find food, they resort to ‘feeding’ on bird seed. Most inexpensive seed blends have a fair amount of cracked corn, and bees are drawn to corn since it has a high sugar content. Additionally, bees visit feeders with sunflower chips since the seed is out of the shell and accessible.
Bees have the ability to extract sugars from corn and sunflower seeds. This helps sustain them during these unseasonably warm winter months.
If you are experiencing a bee problem in your yard, I have a few suggestions.
First, I recommend leaving the bees alone. They are just trying to survive, and the survival of bees is critical to our survival. Without pollinators, such as bees, food production would fail. We need bees.
Therefore, you should not attempt to get rid of them by poisoning them with insecticides.
Second, provide an alternative food source for them, such as a dish with good quality honey, such as from the Honeyman. Additionally, put out a shallow pan of water.
By providing honey and water the bees will probably leave your seed feeders alone, allowing songbirds to feed undisturbed at your feeders.
On days when daytime temperatures are sufficiently cold, bees won’t venture out of their hive, so you will not have to put out honey every day.
This is the type of situation where, on a daily basis, depending upon weather conditions, you will need to decide whether bees need help or not. Certainly, as soon as plants begin to bloom, I would discontinue the practice of putting out honey.
While we received some moisture last week, one storm is not enough to make up for months without moisture. Hopefully, more rain or snow will come before spring migration, or there will be few flowering plants for bees and hummingbirds.
In previous drought years, we have noticed that migrating birds congregate in urban areas where they can find reliable food sources as there might not be enough food for birds out in nature.
This is true for both nectar-dependent birds as well as seed-eating varieties of birds. If we do not get enough rain between now and migration, you can expect to see a lot more bird activity at your seed and nectar feeders this spring.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona — Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.