Thirsty bees

Did you know bees need to drink water? They seek out shallow water sources like puddles and bird baths.

Even if you don’t keep bees, you can help out our little pollinator friends (and a host of other wildlife) by keeping a bird bath or even just putting a saucer of fresh water out for them. You can do this even if you don’t have a yard–try keeping a saucer of water on, say, a balcony railing or in a window box.

If you keep it full, and in the same location, word will spread and the bees will come and belly up. It may take a couple of weeks for a worker to discover the water source, but once she does, she will take that information back to her hive and they will never forget where it is.

The benefit to you is that if bees are coming to drink in your yard, they’ll do you the return favor of pollinating your garden.

Bees are not known as good swimmers, so it really helps if you put a stone or something in your bird bath–even in a saucer–so they have somewhere safe to perch while they drink. We keep this odd calcified beach-thing in our bird bath. (Don’t worry, it’s not salty anymore.) The bees really dig the way the water rises up into the nooks and crannies.  I dare say our bath is one of the most popular bee bars in town.
One of the busiest bee hang outs we’ve ever seen is a piece of modern sculpture by Aristide Maillol at the Getty Center. It’s this massive marble block thing that is skinned with a continuous flow of water. On one nice spring day we watched as hundreds of bees used it as their drinking fountain. If you ever happen to go to the Getty, check it out. It’s down in the little garden at the base of the hill where the trams come and go. Nice to see modern sculpture is good for something. 😉

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  1. Bees actually like a little salt in their water, hence the popularity of swimming pools as a water source. Not too much, mind, but a touch of minerals helps them replenish important micronutrients, just like salt licks for cattle or caged birds.

  2. Wow I didn’t know that! I guess I should have guessed, but never thought about it. I will be setting something up in my flower garden for sure! Our sunflowers are usually covered in bees so it shouldn’t take long for word to spread!

  3. Great article and another reason for keeping a garden pond! We need to encourage these little guys as much as possible and I love to watch them work in the garden. Thank you

  4. I did know that, but that’s because I took a beekeeping class. There, the instructor showed up the six-pack of moss that he keeps in the bird bath. The six pack wicks up the water, and the bees drink it from the moss.

    I haven’t seen any bees at mine, so I’ll try a stone next.

  5. We leave a bowl of water with a stone it out in the garden. The bowl lives in the bed where we have also planted Borage which Bees love as well.The water is for whatever critter may come by but we do see the Bees there a lot.
    The interesting thing about the Bees is they seem to know us,when we are out working they could care less that we are there.

  6. I live in Australia, where we have to be careful about filling birdbaths as they attract mosquitos, which spread diseases like Ross River fever. In hot, humid areas in other parts of the world it’s also probably not a good idea to fill bird baths – even if the water is good for bees.


  7. The only downside to thirsty bees is if you live in the desert and have a dripping water leak, every single bee in the area will come hang out at your place. And then some of them will decide they really ought to sting you. (Or currently, sting your dog’s tongue when he eats them.)

    I love bees and want them to pollinate our garden when we get it planted, but I wish they didn’t find me so stingable!

  8. @Our Red House

    You bring up a good point re: mosquitos. Even in LA this is a concern. I think a good solution would be to keep a small dish of water out and change the water daily–that way the mosquitos have no chance to breed.

    And indeed, in a wet humid climate the bees may not need your water. They’ll get it from the leaves.

    @Chile: Hmmm. Bee management has much to do w. directing their motions. If you could fix the drip, then put the water source somewhere w/o much human & dog traffic (a side yard?) everyone could live in peace.

  9. red house, another way to keep mosquitos out is by having miniscule layer of oil over the top of the water. so as to make a sheen which mosquos can’t penetrate.

  10. I’m reminded of a Sesame Street cartoon in which some, let us say, granola types are trying to figure out how to help a houseplant feel better. Finally, after the obvious the lady states, “Plants need WATER man!” (Slaps Forehead)

  11. At a previous house, the bonnet of an outdoor faucet had a slow leak, just enough to keep a bead of water on the faucet. I refrained from repairing it when I noticed the stream of bees enjoying a drink all summer long.

  12. Do birds go in the bird bath if its always filled with bees?..I have 2 bird baths in my yard, a large and a small one. The bees are draining them daily.

  13. This is the first summer I’ve had bees come to my birdbath. I read about bees drinking online and now have pebbles and a large rock for them to get on if they “go for a swim”. My question is this, it’s in the front yard and I got out and water and take the dogs out with me as the yard is fenced. Do I have to be concerned about me or the dogs getting stung?
    thanks Karas

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  16. Are they just honeybees that are drinking from my birdbath? Or do other bees drink also.
    Will the birds still come to the birdbath?
    If I put a rock in birdbath will it be ok for the birds.? Bees are drowning.

    • I’ve only noticed honeybees drinking at our bath. I don’t know what other insects might visit–but I assume some must. The birds don’t seem to mind the bees. We keep a big rock in our bath to prevent the drowning problem–the bees really appreciate that, and the birds don’t mind that either. I think smaller birds like the central perch.

  17. Do you have a photo from the sculpture of Maillol at the Getty Center, with the bees ? I’d like to see this and don’t find it on the web…

  18. Have about 25 bees all day long tanking up at the catfood cans kept full of fresh water. There are flat wood pieces descending down to the bottom so no bees end up drowning. They really can drink the cans down in the course of a hot day & have put out 4 or 5 other cans for the wild cats to drink out of and not disturb the bees. With the drought here in San Jose, California allot of creeks have dried up and water use is highly restricted. The Bees deserve a break.

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