Feeding your bees is sometimes unavoidable, especially in the fall and winter seasons in areas with cold winters.
And robbing is an unwanted potential side effect.
But certain types of hive feeders and methods encourage robbing behavior in your apiary more than others.
So in this article, I’ll explain which methods work best and which you might want to avoid 🙂
Which Hive Feeders Promote Robbing
External feeders and hive entrance feeders are most likely to promote robbing behavior. These attract bees to the area, increasing the risk of strong colonies robbing weaker colonies. Internal top feeders are the most effective at limiting the potential for robbing.
Even if you are in a region with relatively mild winters, most beekeepers will feed their bees at some point.
A long winter or an extended drought could require feeding to ensure their survival until the warmer weather or the rains appear.
A lack of reserves requires manual feeding and can be a stressful time for the colony.
Their resources are under strain.
And the colony’s worker bees have probably also begun to die off due to the season or the dwindling resources!
This leaves the bees vulnerable. It’s easier to be robbed of their remaining resource by a more robust colony since the home bees do not have the strength or numbers to adequately defend the hive.
Firstly, Why Do Bees Rob Other Hives?
Honey bees are essentially wild creatures in a world where survival of the fittest, strongest, and most resourceful is the name of the game!
When bees from a strong colony detect that a neighboring, weaker colony has a feast just waiting to be taken – the strong will send out vast numbers of workers to attack the weak.
The overwhelming number of vigorous colony workers will fight the weaker bees and steal the honey and pollen resources in the hive. The marauders will then transport the honey, pollen, and even wax, back to their own colony to be stored for their use!
(Needless to say, the same applies when you supply sugar syrup or other supplements!)
The strong colony will see the weaker hive as an opportunity to easily access resources with minimal effort.
Also, feeding often supplies resources to the apiary during a time of dearth, which may attract bees from further afield to come and see what all the buzz is about!
The increased activity around supplemental feeding can result in other bees realizing a colony is weak, encouraging them to rob the colony.
This makes it essential for beekeepers to use methods that minimize the risk of robbing to protect the overall well-being of the apiary.
What Are The Signs A Beehive Is Being Robbed?
Resident bees do not generally fly around the hive or crawl about on the exterior of beehives. This kind of behavior suggests bees from another colony. Instead, normal activity is concentrated at the entrance, where the bees come and go.
The primary signs a beehive is being robbed include the following:
- Lots of bees flying all around the hive. When a colony is being robbed, there’s a lot of flying activity outside, around the hive, including behind the beehive.
- Bees are sitting on the sides of the hive. Numerous bees will be climbing outside the beehive, looking to enter through any crevice or crack they can find. A popular point where the robbers try to gain access is at the lid of the bee hive.
- Fighting at the hive entrance. You will be able to observe bees battling at the hive’s entry as the resident bees try to fight off the intruders.
- Dead bees at the hive entrance. Casualties from the assault on your colony result in numerous bee carcasses near the entry and on the ground near the hive entrance.
- You may also see wax fragments on the beehive’s landing board as some robbers leave stolen wax behind to fight the resident bees.
Why Do Some Types Of Feeders Promote Robbing?
The type of feeders that promote robbing are more than just feeding bees from one colony.
Certain models are designed to be used as feeding stations to simultaneously feed bees from multiple colonies. These feeders are helpful to beekeepers with many beehives at a single apiary site. It’s easier and faster to set up a single feeding station than place internal feeders in 50 hives or more!
However, suppose the feeding station is positioned too close to your beehives. For example, one of your weaker colonies is near the feeding station. In that case, the bees coming to the station may detect honey, which attracts them more than sugar water.
Robbing can ensue when the bees smell this honey and realize the colony isn’t robust enough. It can involve robber bees from many different colonies. This will overwhelm the weak colony and possibly damage it beyond recovery.
These external feeding stations must be positioned 500 yards or 450 meters from your bee hives to avoid robbing becoming an issue. Also, external feeding stations mean you will feed wild bees and bees from neighboring colonies in addition to your own bees!
Best Type Of Hive Feeder To Avoid Robbing
So, to sum up…
Minimizing robbing with different types of feeders is the best method to prevent robbing.
So, the worst feeders that promote robbing are external feeding stations. They allow all surrounding bees to compete for resources at once.
Most beekeepers that use this method do not position the feeding station far enough from their colonies to discourage robbing.
Second, entrance feeders can also promote robbing. The sugar water is placed in a bottle with a feeder lid and inverted. The cap is inserted in the hive entrance so the bees can eat inside the hive.
This container is external to the hive and may leak, dripping sugar water outside. As a result, the syrupy water at the hive entrance can send out odors that attract neighboring bees.
The best hive feeders that are least likely to promote robbing behavior are internal hive feeders. Some internal models are shaped similarly to a Langstroth frame (frame feeders) and replace one of the frames in the brood boxes. The bees can safely feed inside the hive, and no aromas escape to attract robbers.
An example of this type of frame feeder is the Little Giant Frame Feeder.
They hold plenty of syrup, but the disadvantage of these feeders is that the hive must be opened to check food levels and replenish the supply.
These fit on top of a 10-frame Langstroth hive. The lid fits over the feeder, preventing external access to the syrup.
Some internal top feeders require an empty super to be placed on the hive to protect it from external bees and allow the home bees to feed safely inside the beehive.
With some basic DIY skills, it is possible to make your own internal top feeders.
It’s true… There is still the risk other bees might detect the food. A good tip is to place an entrance reducer on the hive entrance whenever you feed your bees manually.
This allows your bees to better defend the entrance and prevents robber bees from overwhelming the colony with numbers.
As you’ve probably discovered, robbing is a bothersome unwanted outcome when feeding bees. Fortunately, internal top feeders effectively feed the bees safely without attracting attention from greedy neighbors :-).