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  • Writer's pictureNona Spillers

A Swarm of Bees Lands on Your... Car, Tree, House, etc.

All About Our Approach to Rescuing Honey Bee Swarms

Swarming is natures way of perpetuating a honey bee colony.  It’s usually a sign of healthy bees!  However, with dwindling habitat - sometimes swarms choose less than ideal homes.  When that happens, we are often called to rescue them.

Getting help…

If you need help with a swarm, call 311 or engage your local beekeeping association.  If you have a bee supply store in your area they will also have a list of resources.

Why do I say RESCUE?

A swarm of bees will usually make a rest stop.  So you might see comments that you should just leave them and they will move on.  That is the textbook answer.

Here’s our answer:

  1. If a swarm lands in an urban-ish environment where people see it, there is a likelihood the home they have chosen isn’t 100% appropriate.  They often pick water meter boxes or tiny holes in people’s roof eves. 

2)  More and more the calls we’re getting are for swarms that have been in a tree limb for multiple days.  When this happens, they start to run out of the food they gorged on before they left their home.

So, we prefer to intervene when someone FIRST sees a swarm because they are at their healthiest.

Disclaimer…. Our way is not the right way - it’s just our way.  There are as many right ways to rescue a swarm as there are  beekeepers.

What does it mean to rescue a swarm?

That depends on the swarm…but generally it means that you move the cluster of bees along with their queen into a hive box and then move that box to an apiary.

Occasionally, people who have a swarm want to become a beekeeper and they can house the swarm and learn as they grow.  It’s not quite as easy as it sounds…you have to be prepared to learn A LOT and buy necessary equipment.

How do you get them in the box?

We aim to chose the most gentle method of transferring the bees possible.

First choice - ushering the bees onto a frame of comb and placing them in a hive box

Second choice - scooping bees gently by hand onto a frame or into a box

Third choice - the shake method, if the bees are on a surface that allows you to shake the bees into a box, we place the box underneath the branch, limb, etc and shake.  It’s oddly effective, and can sometimes take repeated shakes.

We did a rescue recently where the limb was too high to reach on a ladder, so we strapped a 5 gallon bucket to a very long pole.  Tied a wrench to a rope and tossed that over the limb.  Then hoisted the bucket underneath the cluster and shook the bees into the bucket.  We then gently dump the bees into a hive box.

Encouraging / Corralling Bees

Sometimes you need to encourage bees to move.  A standard beekeeping smoker is good for that.

Sometime we spray sugar water onto a surface or frame to provide an incentive for the bees to go there and also provides sustenance when they are low on food.

If those two methods don’t get the result, we can use a spray of almond & tea tree oil.  The bees don’t like the smell and will move away from it. We had to use a bit of that to get a swarm out from between the cab and the bed of a truck.

What to expect if someone comes to rescue your swarm…

Good communication - it’s imperative that whomever you work with let you know what method(s) they are going to use and what precautions you should take.  Most often it is going in the house and making sure pets are inside as well.  Swarms are docile, but moving them is not natural and can cause them to go airborne.

A beekeeper should let you know when they are done.  And also be sure you know there will be a small clump of bees (the foragers that were out) that remain.  They will move on in a few days.

A good beekeeper will let you know how they will handle your bees once they are boxed.

We usually leave the bees closed in their box with food for a day or two so they imprint and won’t swarm when we let them out.  After that we let them settle in for a few days and then check to make sure the queen is healthy.  If not, we add a frame of eggs so they can make a new queen or combine them with another colony.

I like to follow up with the folks who called us sending videos to let them know how the bees are doing.  Even, on the occasion, when something doesn’t go right.

Did You Find the Queen?

It happens.  Sometimes we find her.  But more often you know you got her in the box because the rest of the bees being to move in.  I like to call it the grand march.  It’s like someone blew the whistle and in they go.  Magic.

What can go wrong?

It’s nature - many things!

If the rescuer moves too fast or too slow the bees can just pick up and leave.  Watching a swarm fly is magic…but not when you’ve been working to give them a nice new home for hours.  So the beekeeper has to pay attention to their behavior and adjust accordingly.

Bees in the air.  You’ve likely seen videos of people scooping up bees without a suit or gloves.  PLEASE don’t try that.  Swarms are docile.  However we are not in control.  The bees and mother nature are.  A number of things can happen that changes the bee behavior in an instant - first and foremost the weather.

Overly aggressive bees.  We keep Sassy Bees…but there are occasions and locations where bees are simply too aggressive and people or pets are in danger.  A beekeeper must be able to make a decision when to change course.

Does it Cost?

If what you have is a swarm, on the outside of a structure or in a tree,  there are generally people who will come get them for free.  Why?  Because bees are expensive.  The equivalent of a swarm is called a nuc or nucleus colony and they cost from $150 to $300.   Don’t expect someone to pay you - because collecting a swarm is work.  And it doesn’t always work!  As John says - it’s a numbers game.  Sometimes you don’t get a queen…then you have to do something with the box of bees.  Beekeepers can do that easily.

We’ve been on 7 swarm calls so far this year and come home with 5 swarms.   

We like to appreciate people for their effort with a jar of honey and education about bees.  We generally try to have honey in the car.  If we don’t and we’re in the area - we’ll circle back to say thank you.  After all you put in an effort to give the bees a good new home.

I’m love to do pollinator education - just not in the MIDDLE of swarm collecting.  If you see bees in the air, stay back.  Ask when a good time for questions is.

Bees like to live where bees have lived…

So take the number of the person who does your rescue…in case you need them again.  We rescued two swarms on the same street a couple of days apart from each other.

If you read all this - THANK YOU - you are a terrific bee advocate!

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