do bees eat bird seed

What Are Bees Eating?

I won’t keep you in suspense. Bees congregate in bird feeders to gather nectar from the cracked corn inside. Because they are opportunistic, bees will gather anything they believe to be useful for protein. Furthermore, there is some pollen in corn dust, just not as much as what bees receive directly from the source. Foragers are primarily concerned that corn dust resemble pollen. Bees have incredible eyesight. They use that to identify and distinguish between flowers according to their color and form, as well as to identify pollen. When bees see corn dust, they immediately think, “Pollen!” and rejoice that they have struck gold so close to the hive.

Because pollen varies widely, it is advantageous for bees to gather it from a wide variety of plants when they forage. In their quest for the best nectar and pollen, bees can travel up to three miles from their hive. During this journey, they combine pollen from all the flowers they come into contact with to create a pellet of pollen. This essentially blends the best attributes from the various pollen types they encountered. Bees can be certain that they will be producing quality bee bread when all of their amino acid strings (proteins) come together, regardless of how well-developed each string is on its own. Bees contribute positively to biodiversity, and biodiversity benefits bees. Bees consuming only that will therefore have a disappointing experience if that is the only source of pollen or pollen substitute they are receiving.

Hungry honey bees visiting bird feeders

Howard Russell, Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences, MSU Diagnostic Services – March 19, 2015

After a long, harsh winter, honey bees take advantage of any food source, including bird feeders.

In a bird feeder somewhere in the northwest Lower Peninsula of Michigan, honey bees search for food. Photo credit: Debra Alexander.

I received this picture of dozens of honey bees in a bird feeder from a concerned homeowner. The bees were feeding on cracked corn. Although honey bees do not usually eat corn, they will typically take advantage of any food source when the weather first warms up in the spring. For the past week or so, our daytime temperatures have been high enough for bees to fly and look for food; however, since there aren’t any flowers around, they eat whatever they can find.

The yeast and pollen-sized seed dust particles found in the cracked corn and other seeds we leave out for our little feathered friend are collected by the bees, and I’m sure they are very appreciative of it. As soon as spring flowers start to appear, the bees will migrate on to their favorite food sources.

How Important Is Pollen?

If your bees aren’t eating pollen, they aren’t getting the best source of protein. Bees evolved to turn pollen into bee bread and ingest it. The problem when other dust-like particles get in the mix, is that they don’t have the same variety and quality of nutrients that bees need. It’s not that bees will starve without a good mix of pollen, but the sublethal effects of malnourishment can weaken the hive as a whole. It’s not just bird feeders that are the problem. Sometimes, foraging bees will come back with sawdust or other particulates. Whatever the non-pollen material is, the problem is the same. Bees eating pollen is ideal. Anything else, not so much.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is timing. In the winter bees don’t need pollen as much. The times when bees are most likely to start collecting non-pollen substitutes are warm days in the late winter or early spring. Bees also know that pollen is the best protein source for them. If there’s pollen available, they’ll usually choose it over other options, if only because it’s on the way to getting nectar. But if your bees come out of winter with a good honey store, nectar might not be immediately crucial. If a warm day tricks bees into foraging early, they’ll take what they can get to feed the brood that’s on its way. This has become a bigger problem lately since warm days have started outpacing blooming flowers. Bees start foraging before the good stuff is available, so they make do.


How do you keep bees out of bird seeds?

They cannot be “kept” from feeders, though they can be discouraged by using a feeder that does not allow them access. Trying several feeders or moving the feeder may help. Planting wild flowers away from the feeders can provide a natural source of nectar to deter bees.

Why are bees hanging around my bird feeder?

I won’t keep you in suspense. Bees hang out in bird feeders to forage dust off the cracked corn found within.

What eats bird seed?

And once you’ve attracted rodents and smaller mammals to the area, you can expect the list of visitors to go right up the food chain: snakes, raccoons, foxes, hawks, and owls all feed on those smaller creatures (as well as the song-birds). Outdoor cats, too. It’s a veritable smorgasbord!

Do bird feeders deter bees?

Bees are less attracted to the color red than hummingbirds are, so using a red feeder can help to deter bees. Get nectar guards. Nectar guards are small screens or disks that fit over the feeding ports of hummingbird feeders. They make the holes too small for bees to get through, but they allow hummingbirds to feed.