Do Woodpeckers Eat Bees?


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Woodpeckers are omnivorous and spend most of their time foraging for bugs, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Because insects make up about 75% of their diet, this makes them a wonderful natural pest controller. Attracting these birds to your yard can help keep beetles, spiders, and caterpillars at bay, but do woodpeckers eat bees, too?

Yes, woodpeckers eat bees. This can spell trouble for apiculture enthusiasts. But, if you’re trying to keep stinging insects out of your backyard, then you’ll be happy to learn that woodpeckers eat many different kinds of bees.

Which bees do woodpeckers eat?

When it comes down to it, woodpeckers will snack on any bee. Honey bees, leafcutter bees, green metallic sweat bees, you name it. However, woodpeckers have an affinity for carpenter bees. These are large bees that bore holes into trees that are about ½-inch in diameter, so they’re easy for woodpeckers to explore.

Carpenter bees help save woodpeckers from having to drill their own holes. Of course, the damage that woodpeckers do to trees when they peck away in search of bugs is minimal. Unless the tree is already in poor health, the woodpeckers won’t do it any real harm

Bees, on the other hand, can cause extensive damage to trees because they don’t just drill small holes. They create networks of tunnels, going fairly deep into the tree, and that can lead to significant problems. While the bees themselves may not hurt the tree, unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones who make use of their tunnels. 

Wood-eating insects can make their way in through carpenter bee tunnels, as can fungal spores and parasites. The tunnels also leave the tree prone to diseases and rot, which can ultimately kill it. So you can see how important woodpeckers are to the ecosystem. They don’t just limit the pest population, they keep trees healthy, too!

Why do woodpeckers like to eat bees?

Like most birds, woodpeckers prefer prey that’s easy to catch. If the choice is between a slow-moving grub worm or a fast-flying wasp, they’ll choose the grub worm. If it’s between a wounded spider and a healthy beetle, they’ll pick the spider. Woodpeckers are no dummies, they don’t want to work hard. They want to get as much as they can with as little effort as possible. They’ll even go after other birds if they think it’s an easy meal.

Woodpeckers will catch and eat adult bees if they can. But what they’re really after is bee larvae. When they find a hive full of larvae, they can stay in one spot and eat for a long while. This is much better than having to move from one location to another in search of solitary bugs.

So, for woodpeckers, bee larvae have a lot to offer. They’re easy to catch since they can’t fly away. They’re fat, juicy, and tender. They’re loaded with protein. Bee larvae are a delicacy for woodpeckers, and they will go to great lengths to get their beaks on them. 

Woodpeckers are so bent on tracking down bees that they’re actually a good indicator that you’ve got a hive of bees living in your yard — and that may or may not be a good thing. If you’re noticing more woodpeckers in your yard than usual, it’s time to take a closer look. 

Where do woodpeckers hunt for bees?

If you see a few bees buzzing around, you can bet the woodpeckers aren’t far behind. They’ll search trees, dead logs, utility poles, homes, and other wooden structures for bee larvae — and, yes, that includes hive boxes. Although, because hive boxes stay cooler than the ideal temperature needed for most larvae to mature, they’re actually a poor source of bee larvae compared to trees and logs. So woodpeckers may not be too interested in them.

If wild bees are living in trees or logs in your yard, attracting woodpeckers is a great way to get rid of them naturally. Woodpeckers can be a blessing for dealing with bee infestations. They get right to the root of the problem, eliminating, or at least seriously restricting, the population of the next generation of bees.

But if the bees have infested your home, woodpeckers may be doing more harm than good. No matter how much they drill, they may never reach the bee larvae hidden deep in the walls. But because they can hear the bees buzzing behind the siding, they’ll keep pecking, anyway. And, in a short time, their constant boring can cause thousands of dollars of damage.

If the wild bees in your backyard are living in a safe place (like a rotted log), and they aren’t hurting anything, you may want them to continue to occupy your yard so they can pollinate your garden. In this case, you need to repel the woodpeckers, which you can do by installing a fake predatory bird statue nearby. Woodpeckers can’t tell the difference between real owls and hawks and fake ones, so this is an effective way to deter them.

If a woodpecker taps on your house, does that mean you have bees?

If woodpeckers regularly tap on your house, that can indicate that you’ve got some kind of bug problem. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, woodpeckers peck houses in search of new nesting sites. Sometimes, they do it to tell other woodpeckers to stay away. And sometimes they do it as part of a process called “drilling”, which is a rhythmic tapping meant to attract potential mates. 

If you suspect your home has a bee problem, it’s important to have a professional come check it out. And, if it turns out bees are living in your walls, leave it to the experts to remove them. Do not attempt to get rid of them yourself. Wild bees can be unpredictable, and the average person simply does not have the knowledge needed to handle a swarm of feral bees. 

Because bees are currently endangered, relocation is preferable to extermination. Once the hive has been relocated, there won’t be any more buzzing around your yard, and, therefore, no reason for your local woodpeckers to go pecking holes into your gables.

So the next time you see woodpeckers checking out your yard, do a quick bee inspection. And, as long as you don’t see any bees around your house or hear buzzing coming from inside your walls, feel free to let the woodpeckers handle the problem for you. 

About The Author
Michelle Sanders is an outdoor enthusiast who is passionate about teaching others how to observe and support their local wildlife. She enjoys gardening, birdwatching, and trying (in vain) to get butterflies to land on her.

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