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.

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