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Water Sources For Pollinators

June 21, 2022


For Pollinators!

Pollinators need sources of water for many purposes, including drinking and reproduction. Butterflies, for example, will gather and sip at shallow pools, mud puddles, or even birdbaths. You may already have a natural water source, such as a pond or stream. If not, you can create a water source. This can be as easy as adding a bird bath or a puddling area for butterflies or as complex as installing a water garden. You can also provide water by hanging a dripping bottle, or placing a small container of water out in the open. Be sure to change the water 2-3 times per week during warm weather when mosquitoes are breeding.

Bee Aware

What’s important about water sources for pollinators like honeybees is that it has to be shallow and accessible.

Always place floating wine corks, rocks, moss, or glass pebbles in the container so the bees have a place to get near but not drown in the water.

Bees need water
Water for Bees

Thirsty Bees

800 worker bees are responsible for collecting all the water for the hive. It takes each of these worker bees an average of 50 trips a day to collect the quart of water that the colony needs to survive. On hot days, this need can expand to as much as a gallon of water. When it does, more bees are temporarily assigned to water collection. Just imagine how much work it takes to collect a gallon of water drop by drop. Now, imagine carrying each of those drops for five miles – because that’s how far bees are willing to travel for water.

Not only do bees drink the water, but they also use it for:

Air conditioning – During hot days, bees will spread a thin film of water over the baby bee cells. The water will evaporate, cooling the hive.

If you don’t have the time to refill your bee watering station often, this is a great option. A small gravity-fed pet feeder usually holds a little under a gallon of water and costs about $15. Be sure to add rocks so you can provide water for bees without the drowning risk.

Chicken feeders work just like gravity-fed pet bowls, but they’re a little more durable and stand up to the outdoors. Just like with our other suggestions, if the bowl of the feeder is more than a few centimeters deep you should add pebbles or marbles.

Feeding baby bees – Nurse bees feed developing larvae (aka baby bees) a diet of water, pollen, nectar, and royal jelly. This diet can be up to 80% water on the first day!

Diluting honey – Bees eat their own honey. Sometimes, the honey will crystallize or get too thick. When this happens, bees use water to dilute the honey and make it drinkable again.

Other Sources

If there’s the slightest drip in your garden faucet, you will sometimes see a bee land by it and then drink from that. And it‘s interesting because that mimics the behavior that they would have in just their natural habitat. Remember, they’re very, very small, so a water source for such a small organism can very often be just the morning dew on the leaves in your garden. And so, it is very common for bees to land on a leaf and then wick up a little drop of dew and that’s sufficient for them. Similarly, if they see that little drip coming out of your faucet, it‘s not uncommon to see a bee there.

Also, if you’re in the garden and you see wet soil or muddy water, you will see butterflies and bees landing on that and drinking that muddy water because they’re after the nutrients in that. Let’s say you have an automatic sprinkler system — any of that exposed soil that does hold any water would become, again, a water source for butterflies and bees that are looking for that mineralized water.

monarch butterfly and water
Bees in a water source

How We Do It

Start with a bowl, planter bottom, saucer, or bird bath. Collect rocks of different sizes. If you collect them from areas that you’re not sure are pesticide-free, soak them in a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water overnight and rinse thoroughly.

Arrange the rocks in your shallow- but wide bowl. Make sure that there are big rocks and small rocks mixed in with one another—the bees need rocks to stand on to access the water.

Fill the bowl with fresh water so the rocks are half covered. Place the bowl outside in your yard. If you have a flower garden, we recommend you place the bowl in the garden or close to it. Bees have a hard time finding fresh water so if you place it near an area where they normally travel to you make it easier for them to find!

Source: Bee The Change:


Between Canada and the U.S., there’s one pollinator group that’s missing in Canada, which is the bat, and those are present in the Southern U.S. — so Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas … that whole band there will have bats as pollinators. But outside of that little nuance, you’ve got your bees, your butterflies, your hummingbirds, your beetles, and your flies. So, there’s a lot of diversity.

water source for pollinators

Different Water Sources

Hummingbirds and bats generally get their water from the nectar that they’re eating. Hummingbird feeders work well — hummingbirds like them just as much as they like the native plants that provide them with nectar. So, hummingbirds and bats aren’t usually actively collecting water, but butterflies and honeybees do use water sources, and they use them for a variety of reasons.

Other pollinators, especially butterflies, look for a more naturalized water feature in the garden, like a pond with a little waterfall or another established water feature. We’re not talking birdbaths here, we’re talking an aquascape in your yard, like a meandering brook. Butterflies have an additional reason why they have access to water. And bees do this too, a little bit less so than butterflies, but they’re not looking for just clean waters. They’re actually looking for water with mineral and salt content, and that’s how they get that mineral and salt.

It’s a win-win: by placing a water feature in your garden, both you and the pollinator population will benefit. You hear the tranquil sound of running water while your pollinators receive their essential minerals.