The birds and the bees

Are birds bugging your bees, swooping down for a meal every chance they get? Several beekeepers have mentioned persistent birds that have moved right into the cafeteria, so to speak, picking bees off the virtual conveyor belt that travels in and out of the hive.

My advice is not to worry. Here in North America, we don’t have birds that make honey bees their primary diet—even if it looks that way sometimes.

Two readers in the last month have described scrub jays hanging about in the trees just above the hive. Apparently they will snatch live bees right out of the air and scavenge dead ones from the ground. But scrub jays, like most of our birds, are omnivores that like a varied diet. They eat bees when it’s convenient but move on to other things such as berries, seeds, worms, or other insects as they become readily available. As the growing season progresses and different food items become plentiful, the birds usually move on, selecting other locations and other morsels to whet their appetites.

Right now your queen is busy laying perhaps 2000 eggs per day. That’s a lot of bees and probably a lot more than your birds are hungry for. And remember, too, that birds that pluck dead bees from the ground are doing you a favor—dead bees attract other predators, including hornets and yellow jackets, that ultimately may do more harm than the birds.

So relax, enjoy watching your birds, and remember that they are all part of the ecosystem, the web of life. Once your birds move on, you will probably miss their crazy antics.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

A western scrub jay with a stinging insect. Flickr photo by Jessi Bryan.

Comments

Bill Sanderson on Facebook
Reply

Thanks….I am still frustrated with the scrub jay…..First thing I saw this morning on my deck was him with a bee in his beak!

LJ
Reply

I had seen blue tits stand on one of my hive stands and repeatedly dive down to the ground. I could only guess that they were searching bees or any other kind of insect. Now I know.

BeeLeaf Farm
Reply

I am having issues with Cardinal bird picking off bees. There was one now there are two that sit in a tree in front of the hives and pick bees off. I am concerned that they will reduce the population as they are newer hives.

Rusty
Reply

BeeLeaf,

I would let nature takes it course. Bees have dealt with birds since the beginning.

Gail
Reply

Catbirds are picking off my bees. Just got a weak winter hive going again and a new nuc. So just let nature play out? I wouldn’t know just what to do. The birds are nesting in the rhododendron behind the hives.

Rusty
Reply

Gail,

If the birds are getting them in the air, there isn’t much you can do. If they are standing on the landing board, you could put chicken wire around the hive. Personally, I would just let it play out.

Misty
Reply

Having problems with summer tanagers. Have just set up a new hive two weeks ago. The tanagers primary food is bees and wasps eating at least 10-20 bees a day. Will they end up destroying my hive before its established? Is there anything I can do to deter the birds from the hive?

Rusty
Reply

Misty,

Don’t worry about them. In spring and summer an average-sized honey bee colony loses about 1000 bees per day from various causes, one of them being birds. The high rates of egg-laying (up to 3000 per day) and brood rearing are designed to take natural loses into consideration. Things eating other things is the way a healthy ecosystem works.

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