It’s mid winter or early spring, and all of a sudden your chicken feeder is covered in honey bees. Or, maybe you’ve just found honey bees in your wild bird feeder or in the chicken scratch.
The bees weren’t there yesterday, and now there are many digging in and eating the feed. I’d bet you’re wondering where the bees came from and what you can do about them?
Hungry Honey Bees
The bees are not actually eating the chicken feed or grains, but collecting pollen, minerals, dust and yeast.
Honey bees feed on flower nectar, which they take back to their hive and transfer into honeycomb. This nectar is evaporated into honey, and once honey they cover it with a wax lid. This honey is the bees only source of carbohydrates in the winter after the flowers have died.
Bees also feed on pollen. They mix pollen with nectar or honey to make something called bee bread. Bee bread is the bees main source of protein and is fed to bee larvae and newly emerged bees for growth and development.
In North America, in the days following the winter solstice, a bee colonies queen will start laying eggs- as many as 1500 every day! This means that there will soon be lots of hungry larvae in desperate need of pollen. Obviously, in the middle of winter, there are no flowers to harvest pollen from. This is why the bees are visiting your feeders!
The bees are not actually eating the chicken feed or grains, but collecting pollen, minerals, dust and yeast to make bee bread for their hungry young. Chicken feed dust is high in protein and serves as a winter substitute to flower pollen.
How do I get rid of the bees?
It is easy to understand why you may not enjoy the bees company. Many folks are scared of them or concerned about safety.
Unfortunately, you are unlikely to get rid of the bees. But not to worry! They are not dangerous and will soon move along.
Bees can only fly on warm days over 50 degrees F, and once they find a great protein source (like your feeder), they will keep visiting until plant pollen becomes available. They always prefer plant pollen over feed dust, which should be available in a few weeks.
The bees generally do not pose any hazard while foraging, as they are just stopping by for resources. As long as they don’t feel threatened, they will leave you and your chickens alone.
Your only foolproof defense against the visitors, other than patience, is a treadle feeder. A treadle feeder is an enclosed feeder with a door operated by a step. When the bird steps on the step, their weight opens the door and gives the birds access to the feed.
I use treadle feeders for all of my birds- chickens, turkeys, pheasants, ducks, and guineas- as they are also rain and rodent proof. Treadle feeders also keep wild birds out of the feed.
Can my birds get to their food?
Some folks worry that their chickens won’t be able to eat with the bees in the feed. Bees only fly during daylight, so chickens will have access to food in the early mornings and late evenings. Chickens do not need access to feeders all day and will surely get enough to eat when the bees have left for the day. You may even find your chickens eating the bees.
Should I feed the Bees?
As lovers of chickens, we are often lovers of all animals. You may want to help the hungry bees, however, it would be best if you did not feed them.
If your free range chickens visited the neighbors, would you want the neighbors feeding them?
I have seen suggestions of feeding the bees a pollen substitute, placing a dish of chicken feed in a more convenient place, offering sugar water, honey, sliced fruit, soy flour or meal, powdered milk, and more.
Bees have unique nutritional needs (surprising I know because they are digging through your chicken feed), but in your attempts to help the bees, you may mistakenly feed them something that could accidentally harm them.
Can the beekeeper come and get them?
Here is the funny thing about bees- finding their beekeeper can be a challenge. Even if you know there is a beekeeper nearby, it is difficult to know if these bees belong to them, a different beekeeper, or a wild hive.
I encourage everyone to learn about bees, and think it would be wonderful to have a great relationship with a local beekeeper. You may consider letting your local beekeeper know that the bees are foraging in your feeders. But the beekeeper would not be able to relocate the bees.
Foraging bees are different than a bee swarm, as swarms can be removed.
What if I poison the bees?
I beg you not to poison the bees. First, it is illegal to intentionally kill bees. Second, there are LOTS of foragers in a honey bee hive, and killing the 20 or 30 foraging in the feed won’t do much. The bees will just send out replacement foragers. In a few weeks, there will be native pollen sources and the bees will leave.
What if I change My feed?
Changing the feed you use won’t discourage the bees. I have seen some suggest choosing a feed without soy, but the bees will still visit the feeders regardless of the ingredients.
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Ellis, Amanda, et al. “The Benefits of Pollen to Honey Bees.” EDIS New Publications RSS, Entomology and Nematology, 17 May 2017, edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in868.
Russell, Howard. “Hungry Honey Bees Visiting Bird Feeders.” MSU Extension, 4 Oct. 2018, www.canr.msu.edu/news/hungry_honey_bees_visiting_bird_feeders.