The Hummingbird Versus the Honeybee
My “Ask the Ombudman” column in the August Missouri Conservationist magazine has generated a number of comments/complaints from readers. I answered a question that I receive frequently each summer: “How do I keep the honeybees away from my hummingbird feeder?” I thought it was an innocent enough topic, but it struck a chord with many readers, similar to when a violin string breaks in mid-concert.
One group of readers, the pro-honeybee faction, resented the fact that honeybees would ever be considered a problem, because they are useful pollinators of many plants and they aren’t as plentiful as they used to be. I shouldn’t have bought in to the characterization of their feeding on hummingbird nectar as a problem. To that group I say that I agree honeybees are important pollinators. Of course they do no pollinating when they obtain their nectar from bird feeders instead of from flowers.
Another group of readers, the anti-dilutionists, did not like my recommendation that the 1:4 ratio of sugar to water for the nectar be diluted to 1:5 to make it less attractive to bees. They argued that the more concentrated nectar was vital to keep the hummers in good shape for migration. My response is that the nectar the birds obtain from flowers is not uniform in its sugar concentration. It can vary by plant species, time of day and the amount of recent rainfall. I expect that if no hummingbird feeders were ever made available to the birds, they would still accomplish their annual migrations and reproduction just fine.
The cumbayah faction prefers that humans not interfere and instead allow the bees and hummers to live in peaceful coexistence at the feeders. But it was the humans who were contacting me for advice, and that nectar-filled hummingbird feeder has “human involvement” written all over it. Without humans there would be no hummingbird feeders, the birds would get their nectar from flowers, and the honeybees would still be in Europe where they came from.
Anyway, I enjoyed the feedback and was glad to address a topic of strong interest to our readers. Just don’t ask me to predict which topics will prompt readers to respond.