I’m not exactly certain why we have so many bees visiting the nectar feeders this year. It’s outrageously more than in previous times. I believe that these are Common Eastern Bumble Bees.
As I try to determine the reason for the bees’ apparent need / desire to get nectar from our hummingbird feeders, I can think of a few possibilities. This is the first year that we’ve hung many, small feeders, rather than a few larger ones. One side effect of this strategy is that the male hummers cannot hang out and defend a single source of food. I’ve seen two males perched fairly close together in the general area of the nectar carousel and the additional mini-feeders on the small deck platform just ten feet away. Perhaps, without a male hummingbird chasing off other birds, the bees also feel more secure hanging out on the feeders.
The mini-feeders happen to have a yellow plastic flower at the opening. I have considered that the yellow flower is more attractive to the bees.
Perhaps the natural nectar source has been depleted compared to previous years. This brings up a struggle that I have with our own land management. When we moved here twenty years ago (OMG I can’t believe it’s been that long!), most of the 50 acres had been used for cash crops. To support our flock of sheep (which we maintained in order to train our Border Collies for herding endeavors, as well as host herding trials and offer herding lessons) we planted pasture grasses and red clover. When our life’s mission moved from livestock herding to other ventures, we sold the sheep but kept the fields in the prairie grasses that had naturalized over the years. However, to reduce the invasion of shrubs, we contracted a local farmer to cut hay off the fields. It was our best way to maintain the “grazed” condition of the land.
However, we cannot control the Hay Guy’s schedule or weather that he uses to select the timing for hay production. This year, we have had a lot of rain. The Hay Guy needs a few consecutive days of dry weather to produce hay. Rain on yet-to-be-baled hay can introduce mold which can actually be quite harmful to the animals that consume the hay during the winter months. The second cutting of hay happened quite early, when there were many flowers in bloom (like the red and white clover, as well as other wild flowers.) There are still many hedgerows that were not cut, and due to the topography, the Hay Guy doesn’t cut around our pond. We also have permitted a couple of two-to-three acre parcels to go “shrubby” to encourage some wild bird species. For that reason, many wild, flowering plants still remain. However, I wonder if the bees were left wanting for a good nectar source, so they have turned to the hummingbird feeders.
And, finally, perhaps there is just a spike in the population of the Common Eastern Bumble bee species this year. Who knows? Well, yes, somebody knows. There have been many reports of declining numbers of bee species across the country. I found one reference that suggested that the Common Eastern Bumble bee may have an “expanding range” but that doesn’t mean the population is increasing. HERE is a reference that briefly describes the declining numbers in bumble bee populations.
Curiously, the Hummingbirds do not appear to be ill affected by the large numbers of bees on the feeders that we offer. I suppose that is because we have sufficient feeders, and the birds can simply move to the next option.
I do wonder if the fact that the bees are securing nectar from this artificial source if it might have an adverse effect on their ability to pollinate the plants that depend upon them for that service. I suppose if they are feeding from our feeders because they can’t find enough wild flowers, that wouldn’t be an issue! What I do know is that keeping in touch with nature, if even simply via hanging a flowering plant or hummingbird feeder on your back patio, can provide a myriad of thoughts and perspectives on life, which can take out outside of our own ego-driven point of view. I believe that is a good thing.