Relocating a bumble bee nest

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During the start of the beekeeping season – early spring – the CRBA receives a number of requests about swarms. This is natural as hives that over-wintered are at a point of trying to split naturally. However, these so-called swarms often end up being bumble bee nests that start in an unwanted spot on someone’s property. It’s not that difficult to move them to a location that doesn’t interfere with your comings and goings.

I have bees on my property. How do I know which kind they are?

The CRBA typically deals with two types of bees – honey bees and bumble bees. Honey bees are generally smaller than bumble bees and also less fuzzy. Here’s a picture that highlights the difference in fuzziness.

The bee on the left is a bumble bee. It’s got a large amount of hair (or fuzz), especially on the back end of the body (the abdomen) compared to the honey bee on the right.

Note that neither of the above bees look anything like a wasp or a hornet. Here are some examples of the aforementioned trouble-makers.

On the left is a bald-faced hornet (black and white) and the right shows a common BBQ invader, the wasp (or yellow jacket). Neither of these flying foes have much visible hair/fuzz on their bodies. They’re usually smooth in appearance, but unlike Michael Jackson, they’re annoying.

Why did the bumble bees choose my property?

Bumble bee queens over-winter like hibernating bears and come out in early spring to find a suitable nesting spot for the new season. Suitable locations vary, but could be anything from a soft spot in the ground to somewhere in a hole of an exterior wall or even an unoccupied bird’s nest. Sometimes a seemingly uninteresting towel that you’ve left in the shed over winter provides a protected and cozy environment for a queen’s prospective nest.

If the bumble bee nest is contained within a portable structure, like the bird house in the above picture, you can easily relocate it yourself. Below are some things to note when considering doing this yourself.

I have a bumble bee nest on my property. What now?

If the nest is in a portable container (like a small bird house, or a tote, or in your garden shoe that still has last season’s socks in it), you can relocate it in the same way beekeepers relocate and/or transport honey bee colonies. Just like honey bees are only active from dawn to dusk, the visible colony activity for bumble bees spans the daylight hours. As such, you can wait until it is dark to secure the nest access with some duct tape, say, or a piece of cloth. This is to ensure that they don’t fly out during the relocation efforts.

Once secure, move the entire housing and nest to a new, more ideal location. Perhaps a friend’s house, or maybe to an open field with lots of forage. Try to move them a relatively large distance away in order to avoid the bees returning to the original location – bees are like that; they remember where there home is, and it takes a while to adjust to the new location. When you’ve found the ideal spot, you can open the access point/entrance ever so gently to allow them to come and go again in the morning.

A bumble bee nest that was transferred into a shoe box and then relocated to a different location in the same (large) yard. The ventilation/carrier hole provided a convenient entrance.

If I do nothing, how long will it stay there?

Bumble bee nests last only for a single season (spring through to fall). During the regular season, queen bumble bees mate, separate themselves from their original colony and eventually hibernate in a secure location over winter. The original colony will dwindle and eventually die off before winter. At that time you can clean out the nest that they made and cover up any access points if you wish to avoid future fuzzy friends.

Many people enjoy the benefit of pollinators and seeing them buzz around their property without having to engage in full-on beekeeping. So, if that’s you, let them bee and bumble around until the end of the season!

What do I need to keep in mind when relocating a bumble bee nest?

For those with a TL;DR attitude, here are some things to consider before moving the nest:

  • Is it safe to move the nest?
    If there is a lot of activity around the nest entrance, or the bees seem to be more aggressive than what you’re comfortable with, then it’s probably a good idea to seek professional help.
  • Is it possible to move the nest?
    This could depend on the size of the colony and/or where they nested. If it’s in the hollow of a tree, it’s not movable. Nor would a bumble bee nest inside an exterior wall. If it’s in a small wren nest, it probably is.
  • How big is the nest?
    Large nests may be difficult to move to a new location or be cumbersome to lift/move. Their activity level might also be increased, making containment an issue.
  • Do you have a relocation target in mind?
    Making a plan to move a bumble bee nest should include the destination before you start the process.

26 thoughts on “Relocating a bumble bee nest

  1. Heather Moonie Reply

    My daughter lives in a condo in Edmonton and says she’s had a bumble bee nest underneath her backyard patio for several years now enjoying the flowers she grows in her small garden. She didn’t say anything before because there weren’t that many bees. Apparently the nest has grown to the point where lots of bumblebees are coming in and out. Is there a way to safely remove these bees and put them into a better location?

    • Werner Grundlingh Post authorReply

      Hey Heather! Extraction of any hive (honey bees or otherwise, like bumble bees) from an enclosed space that is not portable is difficult. The most effective way is to expose the area; in your case, open up the patio/deck panels to gain access to the nest, then place the nest inside a ventilated container and relocate it. Perhaps there’s access to the area from below?

      • Heather Moonie Reply

        Thanks for replying Werner. Sorry for not posting sooner. Last time I asked my daughter about the bees she said hardly any seemed to be around so I’m wondering if they chose to vacate on their own? They also repaired and extended their deck which should keep any other bees from gaining access to the underneath.

  2. Joyce Reply

    I have bumble bees in my shed. They are nesting in an old black netting material.
    I took them out of shed w a shovel, they are now laying on my lawn. Where can I relocate them?

    • Werner Grundlingh Post authorReply

      Hi Joyce! I’d suggest placing the black netting anywhere safe and out of the elements, perhaps on the perimeter of your yard under the protection of a tree? They will only use that nesting spot for this year, and the nest itself will only last until fall when queens will emerge from the colony to overwinter as solitary bumble bees. At that time, activity around the colony will die down and you can reclaim your netting. If you need more detail or wish to continue the discussion, please send an email to info@capitalregionbeekeepers.ca.

      • Suzan Reply

        Hi, I have an access point at the edge of my ground floor patio ceiling and bumble bees are coming in and out from there. They are occupying space between my patio ceiling and the floor of the unit above.
        I can’t see the next when I shine light into the hole. Could be anywhere in there.

        I don’t want to tear the ceiling or floor above. I hear that the colony dies in the Fall. So I don’t mind them buzzing until then.

        Qs: what if the queen hibernates in there? What if the nest grows big? What if the colony grows too big and compromises the materials/structure of the building?
        What is best to do? (I have no problem having them there for this summer)

        • Werner Grundlingh Post authorReply

          A bumble bee nest will only be used for a single season. Queens that emerge from that specific colony will overwinter elsewhere and search for a new nest when they wake up from hibernation the following year. So you can let them remain where they are for the rest of the season and then plug the access hole they are using sometime in the late fall (when you don’t witness anymore activity) or winter. They burrow tunnels into the glass fiber insulation but it won’t compromise any building materials or the structure (unlike carpenter bees, for example).

  3. Ilona Reply

    I have just recently noticed that bumblebees have taken up residents under my front steps (2 step, wood frame concrete coated). They are accessing it from a small whole on the side just below the garden dirt level. I don’t want to eraticate them if they will go away in the fall and not come back. Next can’t be moved. I don’t want to be left with a hibernating queen. Help!

    Ilona

    • Werner Grundlingh Post authorReply

      They shouldn’t return. However, you should close the access hole in early winter.

      • Ralph Reply

        I wonder if there is anyone who could help relocate a bumblebee nest. We love having bees in our yards but sadly this nest is right next to the entrance of a daycare where children and parents enter every day. We would prefer to move them safely but it is not an easy location as they seem to have a tunnel under some mulch that perhaps leads under the cementvateo

        • Werner Grundlingh Post authorReply

          Hey Ralph! Can you connect with the club via the swarm hotline phone number? There may be someone in your area that can help or advise on possibilities.

  4. Rod Wood Reply

    Hi Werner, we live on a treed acreage southwest of Calgary. In clearing an area for a play set, we have found a bumblebee nest in the roots of a dead tree. Can we do anything to encourage the nest to move before we level the ground?

    • Werner Grundlingh Post authorReply

      Not really. They would have to be physically removed and relocated. 😐

  5. Diane Reply

    Hi Werner
    We have a bumble bee nest that has taken up residence under the house siding next to a patio.
    We have caulked as many access points as we can but they are still determined to get in and are finding ways to do it!
    Short of tearing off the siding are there any other options for discouraging them from continuing in that spot?
    I understand that they will die over the winter but if the queen is still there does that mean we would have the same problem next year?

  6. Christie Reply

    Hello

    How would you go about removing a large nest that is between the wall of your house and the backyard cement patio (there is a crack between the house and the cement pad) so access is extremely limited without having to break the patio. What should we do, we have members of our family with severe allergies living in the home, including a small child.

    Any advice is appreciated.

    Thank you,
    Christie

    • Werner Grundlingh Post authorReply

      They will only attack if threatened or provoked. However, if you feel your family safety is being imposed upon, then eradication is probably the only option. Have you requested this option from a pest control company in your area?

  7. Alison Faber Reply

    I wanted to let people know that if they find a bumble bee nest that they don’t intend on destroying, they should report it to the Bumble Bee Watch (www.bumblebeewatch.org).

  8. Kim Reply

    Found 4 nests around our new home this summer, within 10M of each other! 2 are in cement gaps around the house, other 2 in soon to be landscaped semi dead cedars. Sure hope they go to find different homes other then around the house, we have lots of other areas I’ll try to lure them to.

  9. Agnes Reply

    Hi, I’m in Ottawa. Unfortunately, our bumble bee nest is under our front steps (underground) and not movable. We have been co-existing nicely for months. Unfortunately, it appears that I made them mad when digging up some rug weed (in preparing for planting clover seeds) and now they have become extremely aggressive and are chasing my family and I over our front property and inside our house. My 3 year old has also been stung. So, here is my question, is there a way of moving them or having them moved. I know how they come in (we gave them a plastic pipe when we fixed up the front steps a month ago). And do you know anyone in the Ottawa (Ontario) area who could capture and relocate, if necessary. Thank you for any help you can offer.

  10. Marianne Van Esch Reply

    Hi Werner,
    Wow you know so much!! We have one big bumble bee that is determined to spend time under a patio stone. We don’t want a nest on the patio. We’ve filled holes where possible with sand but she’s still buzzing around the area the last couple of days. Would she have already laid eggs (and needs to return) or do you think she’s trying to find a place to build a nest? We are trying to figure out what stage she’s in, and hopefully convince her to go somewhere else without harming her.

    Thank you in advance for any advice you can offer!

    • Werner Grundlingh Post authorReply

      Most bumble bee queens within the Capital Region would have started nesting already. So I’m thinking she probably already laid some eggs and would be returning to care for them. It’s hard to persuade them to find alternative accommodation unless you can persistently do so… otherwise they tend to scout and forage at far greater speed than you can cover holes. Persistence is usually the key though, and curbing access. If you end up losing the battle and they do nest under the patio, it’ll only be for that season and it shouldn’t be in a high-traffic area. That would not be a safe place for them, so I doubt that they’ll do that.

  11. Sue Reply

    I found a small nest about the size of a softball while I was clearing a planter. There were only a few bees and what looked like a queen. I moved it with a rake because I had already disturbed it and the bees were surprisingly calm. Most of them flew away including the queen. Will they be able to find the nest again? Will the eggs still survive without the bees returning? I placed it about 100 ft away on a compost pile.

    • Werner Grundlingh Post authorReply

      I doubt it. A relocation that far would be unfamiliar to them, so unless they find it through a fluke (just by foraging). Regardless, if they don’t find it soon, whatever brood is left will die if they’re not taken care of (kept warm and/or fed).

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