SoCal Beekeeping

Bees In A Birdhouse
October 14, 2019
P. Michael Henderson

I got a call about some bees in a birdhouse the other day.  I went over to look at the situation and sure enough, there was a birdhouse - a fairly large birdhouse - and there were bees in it.  I didn't look inside the birdhouse, which was a mistake.  The people told me that they only noticed the bees a month or so ago so I figured they were a recent "move-in".

But when I went to get the bees it was obvious they were a well established hive and had been there a long time.  First, there were a lot of bees - a lot more than a swarm.  And the birdhouse was FULL of comb, both brood and honey.  My access into the birdhouse was through two doors that opened and gave me about a 6" by 6" access hole.  I had to cut the comb to get it out of the birdhouse.  The brood comb wasn't too bad but the honey comb made a mess.  There was honey all over everything - my gloves, the birdhouse, my tools, everything.

But I did manage to get the comb and the bees out of the birdhouse.  I used the bee vacuum to get the bees.  However, because of my limited access into the birdhouse, some of the bees were inaccessible to me so I left more bees in the birdhouse than I would have preferred to.

I put the brood comb into frames and transferred the bees to a hive with the brood comb.  I extracted as much of the honey as I could from the honey comb and I plan to feed that honey to them soon.

The big question is whether I got the queen and whether she's okay.  It's been about a week now so I'll take a look tomorrow and see what the brood comb looks like - whether I can see any eggs or early larvae.  If I do, I'll know that the queen is there and laying.  If not, I'll take a frame of early brood that has eggs in it from one of my other hives and give it to them to so that they can make a new queen.  It's very late for a mating flight but we never have really cold weather so I hope if they have to make a new queen she can mate.

 I'll report back as I know more.  Sorry I didn't take any pictures of this. 


10/28/2019  It appears that I either didn't capture the queen or she was damaged or killed in the cutout.  I went into the hive yesterday and there were emergency queen cells on the brood comb that I transferred from the birdhouse.  At least I hope they were emergency queen cells and not just empty queen cups.

I didn't see any emergency queen cells (or queen cups) on the brood comb when I put it into the hive so I'm pretty sure they are new.  All of the emergency queen cells were open so if they are emergency queen cells I assume the queens hatched.  The problem now is whether there are drones for her to mate with.  We're having warm weather so I hope the other hives have not kicked their drones out yet.

I'll know in a couple of weeks.  If there are eggs or larvae I'll know I have a queen.  If not, I'll try giving them a frame of early brood (eggs) from one of my other hives. 


11/3/2019  I went into the hive today and there was no brood or eggs.  If the bees are making a new queen - and I found two emergency cells empty - that's to be expected.  The queen has to sexually mature and then make her mating flight - then come back and start laying.  My concern is whether there are drones out there for her to mate with.

I took a frame of brood that contained eggs and capped brood and put it in the hive.  That will give them some new bees and a chance to make a queen if the first emergency queen failed.  I have my fingers crossed.  It's a big hive, well mannered, and I'd like to keep it.  I'll keep reporting what I see each week.


12/1/2019  Either the bees never made a queen or the queen couldn't find any drones.  There never were any eggs in the hive.  I finally merged them with another hive I have.  I was really disappointed in this failure.  There were a lot of bees and they were very docile - it would have been really nice to have them as an on-going hive.

Lesson:  Don't pick up a cutout this late in the year unless you can be absolutely sure that you have the queen.

Come spring I'll split one of my existing hives and look for some swarms or cutouts.