Birds do it – bees do it – and (apparently) even educated fleas do it, but how do birds and bees cohabit in the same area? Why does the one not decimate the other, especially when the one is far bigger and can fly faster and further, leaving the smaller with very little defense?
Will birds eat bees?
Very few birds eat bees regularly, and those that do, we find in Europe, Africa, and Asia. North America has several species that opportunistically include bees in their diet, but providing bird feeders and birdhouses can limit losses. Camouflaging the hives also helps limit avian predation.
Most folk would agree that the honeybee is a vital link in the food chain and that countless crops would be devastated and remain unpollinated in the fields without them.
Ignoring GMO and mechanical pollinators for the moment, you would be hard-pressed to find a sane person who decried the value of a honeybee. But what are we as individuals doing to save them?
How do you stop birds from eating bees?
Although birds are not a significant threat to your bees, you can take a few precautions to limit the danger even further.
Use Bird Feeders To Protect Bees
If the bird has sufficient food, it has no reason to snack on your bee colony.
Even though birds only eat bees opportunistically (in the US and Canada, at least), it makes perfect sense to step in and provide a feeder for the birds like this. (Amazon)
Note that not all birds eat the same things.
A Northern Cardinal, for example, will include insects (beetles, true bugs, caterpillars, flies, grasshoppers, ants) in their diet and, on occasion, add centipedes, spiders, and snails. However, most of their diet consists of vegetable matter and includes seeds of weeds and grasses.
Unless you have the patience to hunt for the menu items above, you might want to try suet, bacon fat, and several types of seeds instead. You can render these ingredients into balls for the birdfeeder. I suggest you contact your local bird club for other suggestions.
Protect the Beehives
I’ve heard about beekeepers putting up netting over their hives to prevent birds from getting up close and gobbling up the bees as they come and go. This could work for some types of birds, but it won’t have much effect on birds, like Scrub Jays, who can pluck the bees in mid-flight!
Using Camouflage To Protect Bees from Birds
Place the beehives in an area surrounded by bush, trees, a wall, or a mound, and not out in the open if you are concerned with birds raiding your hives. Try to use nature to foil nature somewhat, but be aware that birds are the least of your worries as a beekeeper.
Do Bees Need Protecting From Birds?
As a bird lover, this question was very pertinent to me. In nature, birds and bees (like educated fleas!) live daily, almost from hand to mouth, as it were, in an endless struggle to survive.
Nature tends to separate creatures in the wild into two groups; predator and prey, and if you’re not the one, the chances are that you’re the other!
What birds eat bees?
Very few birds include bees in their daily diet. Most being opportunistic bee-eaters that partake of the avian delicacy when they happen upon a swarm resting, etc.
In the US and Canada:
- Scarlet Tanagers,
- Summer Tanagers,
- Northern Cardinals, and
- Purple Martins
- Scrub Jays.
Practically speaking, with your queen bee laying upward of 1500 eggs per day, they’re no genuine concern unless you are hit by a flock, which is unheard of.
Other birds that occasionally eat bees include:
Woodpeckers are also partial to the larvae of leafcutter and carpenter bees.
Fortunately for beekeepers in the US and Canada, few birds rate bees high on their checklist of takeaways. Not so for those of you in Africa, Europe, and Asia, where things are very different:
- The European Honey Buzzard – The name says it all! And with the bird being relatively large, 22” (55cm) tall, with a wingspan of 45 – 54” (120cm), it can decimate a hive in a very short time. The Honey Buzzard generally observes foraging flights of bees or wasps from a perch, where it can sit motionless for hours.
It also preys on yellow jacket wasps that, in turn, prey on bees, so perhaps that’s its way of ‘paying forward.’ Pernis apivorus is found from Scandinavia to South Africa, migrating in each direction to avoid the onset of winter.
- Bee-Eaters (Merops sp.) – Nine species migrate between Russia and South Africa, with a smaller presence in South-East Asia. While these smallish birds do not attack hives, they prey on bees flying to or from the hide, hawking from tree branches or telephone lines, etc.
- Honeyguides – The Greater Honeyguide (Indicator indicator) has a perfectly apt scientific name! Not interested in bees for themselves but rather for their honey, this cunning bird will wait on a branch in the African Veldt – or, more correctly, veld – after locating a beehive. When a human or honey badger comes along, it chatters away and draws them to the hive.
The first time I experienced this in Africa, I had no clue what was happening. So I followed the bird, thinking it was injured, but lo and behold, it led me to a natural beehive in an Acacia thorn tree.
Once the human or badger opens the hive and removes most of the honey, the Honeyguide waits for them to leave, then moves in to mop up.
Most of our birds in North America are omnivores that enjoy a varied diet. They eat bees when convenient but will move on to other food sources like berries, worms, seeds, or other insects as these become more readily available.
I recommend you relax and enjoy your bees, and remember that, like bees, birds are a part of the ecosystem and deserve their place in nature.
Do bees sting birds
Birds usually are protected from bee stings thanks to their feathers. The plumage provides a good shield against single bees. However, birds will be stung by a group of bees if a colony feels threatened.
So how do birds avoid getting stung by the bees they feast on? Most birds know to keep away from swarms of bees. They will look for easier targets and pluck individual bees near the entrance or in mid-air. The birds won’t get stung by a single bee because the attack happens so quickly that the bee doesn’t have time to react.
Occasionally, if a bird picks up a large bee, it will remove the stinger by scraping it against a hard surface.
Starting Out As A Beekeeper – Are Birds A Problem?
When first starting your beekeeping lifestyle, the last thing you want to do is donate any part of your small colony to the local bird population. No matter how much you may love birds! You will want your colony to take hold quickly and permanently with the barest amount of loss possible. So, what can we all do to limit the dangers?
Bees and birds are beautiful creatures living in perfect harmony with little planning. Both species were here long before pesky humans arrived, and if we don’t mess things up too severely, they may be here when we all depart. So enjoy your wildlife in its most natural setting and if you lose a few bees to birds, know you have contributed to the food chain…