About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why bees would swarm around cracked corn in early spring

Hello, I was told you were the expert to ask. Bees are swarming on my bird feeder and keeping the birds away. Have you ever heard of this? What’s the reason for this odd behavior?

I’ve never had bees swarming a bird seed feeder personally but I have heard it happens when there is cracked corn or grain sorghum (milo) in the feeder. When the temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit honey bees begin to leave the hive in search of food. In the spring there are only a few flowers available to provide pollen, so the foraging bees will turn to other sources.

Honey Bees sip carbohydrate-rich nectar from flowers and collect protein-rich pollen to make honey and food for their young. The protein is essential for the hive in the spring to feed newly hatched larvae. Even though corn is high in carbs, its kernels do contain some protein, so worker bees gather corn dust to take back to the hive.

Honey bees are unable to carry seeds back to the hive and process them for food. However they will carry small grains of the dust in their pollen baskets on their hind legs, and can even empty a bird feeder trying to get to this dust.

These spring honey bees are only territorial of their hive and tend to only sting when immediately threatened. Birds still may be intimidated by the presence of the bees so I would switch to one our Wild Birds Unlimited blends. Each of our blends is mixed to attract the birds that live in our area. Our top blends are 99% cleaned and do not include corn or cheap filler grains like milo, therefore, there is no wasted seed and bees won’t be attracted.

Make sure to clean your feeder first before you switch seed blends to remove any remaining dust. You could also try to distract the bees from you feeder with an alternative source of food. Set out a shallow tray of sugar water or a bowl of chopped apples or oranges in a yellow bowl. I only feed birds but some beekeepers feed brewer's yeast to their honeybee colonies to help them survive the lean times. You can read more at: How to Feed Brewer's Yeast to Honey Bees | eHow.com

And make sure to landscape with a lot of native wild flowers, trees and plants that bloom and produce fruit. This is not only good for the bees and birds but also for our environment.

Related Articles:


Wild Birds Unlimited Denver said...

I had bees collecting dust from sunflower chips in a Dinner Bell feeder in front of the Denver WBU store.

Anonymous said...

I had bees doing this on Jan 20th 2017 what happens to the bees now that it's still winter?

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

Typically in the winter, bees stay inside hives except for occasional cleansing flights. Each flight increases the risk that upon return, the bees could end up huddling in the wrong parts of the hive, where honey has been depleted. Then if the temperature suddenly drops, as it’s done several times even during recent warm spells, the bees won’t move around and essentially get trapped.

Warm winter may wreak havoc on honey bee population as the usually semi-dormant bees have been active and eating through their reserve honey stores, which are suppose to last until spring.

Besides consuming more honey due to increased flying — a behavior that beekeepers call "frivolous foraging" — honeybee colonies also eat more as reproduction kicks into high gear earlier than usual. Female worker bees huddle around the queen bee, whose primary job is to lay eggs, and keep her at a comfortable and constant 93 degrees. Male drones prepare to mate.

Anonymous said...

We are having an unusually early spring in Northeast Minnesota this year. This is the first year I have noticed bees coming to my bird feeders. When I realized that they were trying to get the pollen dust from the seeds I did not worry about it. You can choose to change your birdseed however if there are no flowers for these bees it's more harmful to take away their food source. It's only a minor inconvenience to the birds for a short amount of time. The bees stopped coming around after a week or two. The birds come earlier in the morning before the bees come around and return later in the evening after the bees go home. I choose to Feed the Bees until they can get their own food.