SoCal Beekeeping

Bees In A Birdhouse (Redux)
March 4, 2020
P. Michael Henderson

Last October I received a call about some bees in a birdhouse.  I didn't take any pictures of that cutout but I described it here.  A couple of days ago, I received another call from the same location - bees were back in the birdhouse.  This time Judy, my wife, came with me and took some pictures.  Here's the birdhouse.  In the space of about five months, the bees completely refilled this birdhouse with comb.  Back in October I had removed all the comb when I did the cutout.

And here's what it looked like when I opened the doors.  The birdhouse was completely full of bees and comb.  Either I left the queen and enough bees that they could rebuild, or a new swarm moved into the birdhouse.  At least this time I was a bit better prepared.

We waited until almost sundown so the foragers would be back in the hive.  Here's a picture of Colleen, the homeowner, in front of the hive before we started work on the cutout.

Here I am starting the cutout.  I use the bee vacuum to collect the bees and have to cut out the comb piece by piece.  The comb is too wide to take out in one piece so I had to cut it in half and then take each section out in two pieces.  The video only shows a very small part of the process.

You can see here the size of the comb that I could get through the doors of the birdhouse.

The bad thing was that the only brood was drone brood.  This piece of comb is fairly representative of what I took out.  Notice there's no worker brood, just those drone cells.  The white in some of those cells is not eggs or new larva.  It appeared that there was nectar in those cells and the white is just a reflection of the light.

I won't bore you with a lot more pictures.  Just this one - a selfie of the photographer.

By the time I finished the cutout it was getting dark.  I mounted most of the comb on frames and put it in a deep brood box.  Then put the bee vacuum on top of that and released the bees into the box.

Regarding the drone brood and the lack of worker brood - it's possible that the hive swarmed and the new queen isn't laying yet (I found some empty queen cells on the bottom of the comb).  Since drones take longer to develop they could still be in the comb while the workers would have all emerged by now.  I'll keep my fingers crossed.  If there is a queen, and I was able to capture her, I should see eggs in a week or so, if she's already done her mating flight.

The other possibility is that there's no queen and we have laying workers.

I can put a frame of eggs and brood from one of my other hives and see if they make a queen.  If not, I can always combine them with one of my existing hives.

I'll do an update here when I find out how they're going to do.


[Update 3/31/2020 (27 days since the cutout) - Good News!  I went into the the hive today and there's a decent amount of brood.  What apparently happened is that the bees swarmed when they were in the birdhouse - because it was so small and they had filled it.  The new queen had done her mating flight and either had not started laying or I just didn't see the eggs.

But she's there now and laying.  So the question now is what kind of drones did she mate with.  Drones appear to control how defensive the worker bees turn out to be.  It'll take time because when the hive is small they're fine.  After they fill a brood box - or two brood boxes - they will exhibit excessive defensive behavior if they are that way.  I'll post a follow-up towards the end of summer when the bees have built up their numbers.