Bumble bees in bird house

Update 31 July 2017.  Thanks Kathy (Langley, BC).

These photos are awesome pictures of  bumblebees nesting in a bird house.

This is not an uncommon occurrence.  Bumble bees will nest in the ground, inside insulation of a wall, in a bird house or other structure that will keep the weather out.  Bumble bees find these places attractive for nesting if there is either moss, insulation or other nesting material collected by mice.  chickadees prefer and often collect moss their nests.  It dries out into a nice cushioning type material, perfect for their young offspring.  By the way, Joe S. says that if you want chickadees to nest in a bird home, place dried moss into the bird house.  And yes, I tried it with success.  Thanks Joe!

Like chickadees, birds of all kinds bring nesting materials like moss and grasses into their bird house and leave after their young have hatched.  This is a great boon to bumble bees.  This is also a nice way of increasing the number of bumble bees into your garden.

Bumble bees are such cool creatures, often colourful to boot.  Kathy writes “When you see them up close they have an incredible amount of pollen on their back legs.  The opening into the bird  house is 1 1/4″ so you can see how huge they are.”

The large bumble bee is the queen and she chooses the nest site.  She then starts collecting pollen and nectar which she carries on her legs fro her offspring.  She collects sufficient pollen for a brood of about 10, and sits on these eggs like a broody hen.  After 2-3 weeks, the your bees emerge and they begin collecting food for additional offspring.   These cells that the oung bee comes out of, are now used as storage pots for honey and nectar.  These pots hold enough food to carry the colony over for 3-5 days of rain.  Without these food reserves, a bumble bee colony would be in jeopardy every time it rains.

Once the first set of offspring emerge and begin collecting pollen and nectar, the queen now pretty much stays inside the nest and lays eggs and broods on additional offspring.  Offspring can be small or large.  Their size depends on the amount of food they were given when they were developing larvae.  Often people think they are different species.  species are identified by their colour patterns and not by size.

The colony grows for 2-3 months and then starts producing queens and males.  Males can be identified by their yellow and fuzzy (no distinct lines of yellow) heads.  Females have distinct colours and lines on their head and thorax.  When food conditions dwindle, males mate the young queens and eventually the colony dies out leaving moss and debris.   A sure sign of the end of a colony’s life is when you can see males in a colony.

If you hear of someone being bothered by bumblebees, let them know that the colony does not have more than about a month left before they all leave.  Often the timing to clean out a bird nest or cleaning out a shed can be adjusted to make sure that most bees are produced for the following year.

If we can encourage everyone to do this, work around the nesting times of bumble bees, we will have many more bumble bees in our gardens.  What a delight it is to see bumble bees flitting from flower to flower.  How lucky we are to see it.  Lets make it a common occurrence.

 

This is a guard- watching out for predators.

 

Bumble bee on the left is cooling the colony with its wings.  The bumble bee on the right seems to be ready to go and gather more pollen and nectar for the young bees.

 

Coming in for landing.

 

Resting after a long flight.

 

Making room for a larger colony by removing excess moss material.

Underneath the moss is a bumble bee colony (below). One bumble bee guard is walking on the surface of the colony.

Underneath the moss is a bumble bee colony. One bumble bee guard is walking on the surface of the colony.

11 replies on “Bumble bees in bird house

  • Long Distance Grandma

    We were trying to find good pictures to identify the bees that are now in our birdhouse and found your site. I think we have our answer! Thank you for the up close pictures. How did you take them? Have the bees bothered you while you are in your garden? Will they make honey?

    Reply
  • Margriet

    Hi, Taking close-up pictures of bumble bees is tricky. Any movement by the photographer might end up with a sting, especially when you are so close to the nest. But, with caution and stealth, it is possible. You can see from the photographs that the bees were a little irritated, because the bees came out to guard and defend the nest. Without disturbance, you would see very little activity right at the nest, except bees flitting in and out of the nest. While flying around the garden, they usually dont bother people. Yes they do make honey- placed in little pots- but not enough for harvesting like honey bees.

    Reply
  • Eric

    Thank you for posting these pictures. This is the first time we have been able to identify the type of bees nesting in our birdhouse. We would like anyone to answer some questions about this type of bees. Is it possible to move the birdhouse to another area so we can use the deck? Will they be attracted to food?

    What is the best course of action to enjoy the summer with people and children on the deck. The birdhouse in right out side of the family room. Thanks.

    Reply
  • Carol

    Thank you for posting these pictures. This is the only place we found in our search that identified the type of bees nesting in our birdhouse.

    The birdhouse is located right outside our family room. We are concerned that we will not be able to use our deck this summer. We will have children our there too.

    Reply
  • Carol

    Continued from above:
    I would appreciate any information on the habit and life cycle of this type of bees. I am concerned about being able to use or deck this summer. We will have adults and children relaxing and playing on it. Do these bees have stinger? Will they go after our food? Thanks.

    Reply
  • Robert Shelfer

    Last year I made several mason bee nests from plywood and put cedar trays in the nests. The bees did not like this so I turned the bee nests into bird houses.

    I’d like to turn the bird houses into bumble nests. What would be a good height above the ground for the nest? I’m assuming straw would make good bedding?

    Thanks, Robert, Vancouver, WA

    Reply
    • Margriet

      Cedar works but needs aerating to get rid of the phenols in the wood. Old cedar works great. For bumble bees, old upholsterer’s cotton works well but success rate is very low no matter what you use and where you locate the house. I have seen quite a number of bumble bees use insulation in shed walls too. The best way to encourage bumble bees is to have ‘CONTINUOUS BLOOM’ in your garden. These flowers will give bumblebees their nourishment to raise their families. Dr Margriet

      Reply
  • Glen Buschmann

    Glen Buschmann writes that Bumbles rely on other animal nests and just rearrange the materials to suit themselves. They don’t carry nesting materials like leafcutter bees and mason bees, nor dig a nest out like carpenter and miner bees. Bumbles seem to have a close relationship to the fluffy nests made by mice and other small mammals, as well as to cavity nests left by small birds. “I agree with Margriet’s suggestions about cotton (and success); straw seems a bit too coarse.”

    He continues “When a queens first emerges from her winter hibernaculum, she feeds a bit and then spent a long time searching (both by sight and smell) for underground mouse (etc.) nests, or sometimes for bird boxes filled with old nests. In Olympia, WA the bumble bee we find most often in our old bird boxes is Bombus melanopygus, a very early bumble (Feb emergence is common) who is remarkable for brick-red flanks and large queens. This is one of several red-flanked bee in the U.S., so don’t assume based on color alone, but this bumble is a common early one in the Pacific Northwest.”

    Reply
  • Marlene Davis

    I have bees in my birdhouse for his year, Carpenter Bees I think, and I’m wondering when, and if they leave, after the summer season and when is is good time to clean out the birdhouse for next season?

    Reply
  • Marlene Davis

    I have bees in my birdhouse for this year, Carpenter Bees I think, and I’m wondering when, and if, they leave after the summer season and when is is good time to clean out the birdhouse for next season?

    Reply
  • Jessica Sullivan

    I have bees in a bird house, however, the bees have covered the bird house in this grey like material. My husband wants to kill the bees. They have worked for two months covering the bird house. I think it looks amazing. Want to let them live. He said he got stung and then they came after him. I stand and watch them every day. They are never aggressive towards me. Took many pictures of the bird house, can’t believe how beautiful it looks

    Reply

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