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.


[Update 4/16/2020 (43 days since the cutout) - Judy worked with me today to examine the hive and for her to take some pictures of the brood.  The hive has perhaps four frames of drawn comb with some brood on each frame.  The frames are the ones where I put their comb from the cutout - they haven't started making any new comb yet.  But the amount of brood looks very good.  Here's one frame - perhaps the one with the most brood.  You can see that the brood pattern is quite good, with very few open cells in this area of brood.  They don't have much honey or pollen in the comb at this time, but I expect they're using all of it to feed the brood.  Once they build up the size of the hive they'll have some excess to store.  Of course, they won't have any honey to harvest until next year.  The hive is still fairly small right now.  They aren't very defensive when I open the hive - but the real test will be when they fill two brood boxes.

I think we got a picture of the queen (next photo - center of photo).  I don't think they're raising any drones - there's no sign of drone brood on the comb - but it could be one from the earlier drone brood.  Anyway, that bee is quite a bit larger than the workers so it has to be the queen or a drone.  She has the shape of a queen, with the longer abdomen - drones have a more rounded abdomen - so I'm going to say this is the queen.  She's doing a good job!


[Update 6/14/2020 - 102 days since the cutout] I went into the hive today and it has really grown.  They've drawn comb in the second brood box and filled most of it.  I examined a few frames and there's a band of capped honey around the top and sides with capped brood in the center.  I was surprised at how quickly the hive has grown.  No activity in the one super I had on the hive but I expect they'll move up to it soon.  I added two more supers to be safe.

The bees were pretty mild.  Didn't bother me while I was in the hive and didn't follow me when I left the hive area.  Settled down quickly - good bees.


[Update 8/8/2020 - 157 days since the cutout] The hive has really grown.  They're starting to store honey in the supers now.  No capped honey yet but maybe soon.  My other two (older) hives have two supers full so I'll have to harvest soon to make sure they don't become "honey bound".


[Update 9/10/2020 - 190 days since the cutout] I harvested honey from my two older hives today and while I was in the bee yard, I took a look into this hive.  They have some honey capped in the upper super - just the upper part of a few frames, but that's impressive considering they came out of a birdhouse in March.  That's six months from cutout to a producing hive.  By spring, for sure, I'll have to harvest some of their honey just to keep them from getting honey bound.  The bees were very mild during my exam.  In fact, all my hives right now are mild. 


[Update 10/8/2020 - 218 days since te cutout]  I looked into the hive today to check on their honey supers.  I was concerned that they'd fill the supers and swarm in the spring.  They are storing honey but don't have a lot of capped honey in the supers so I decided to leave them alone until spring.

I'm really amazed at how mild the bees are.  They don't come at me when I'm in the hive and they don't follow me when I leave the apiary.  Couldn't ask for nicer bees.


[Update 12/24/2020 - 295 days since the cutout]  I haven't gone back into the hive since October but I wanted to comment on how mild the hive is - they just don't pay any attention to me when I go around the hive.  I need to do my best to keep them from swarming when spring comes.  Maybe I'll split the hive.


[Update 2/8/2021 - 341 days since the cutout]  I did a minor exam on the hive today.  They're active and producing a lot of brood.  They have some honey in the supers but not a lot - hasn't changed much since October but with winter there hasn't been a lot of forage either.  Overall, they seem to be doing quite well.  Very mild hive as far as temperment goes.


[Update 2/22/2021 - 355 days since the cutout]  I did a "walk away" split of the hive today.  I had two deep brood boxes on the hive so I took one off and put it on a base in a slightly different part of the apiary.  I made sure that both boxes had at least one frame with eggs.  I think the queen is in the box that was on top in the original hive and I took a frame of eggs from that box and put it in the other box.

If I'm right, the foragers will go to the box with no queen (I left that box where the original hive was) but the other box had a lot of capped brood so they'll promote some of the nurse bees to foragers fairly quickly.  I put one super of honey on the queenless box (because they will have the foragers) and two supers of honey on the queenright box.  None of the supers were full but they have a decent amount of honey in them.  There was pollen in the frames in the brood boxes.

Now to see if the queenless colony makes a new queen and if she survives mating and returns to the hive safely.

If the queenless hive fails to make a new queen, I'll put the two back together again.  But I hope the split works.

As you can imagine, I really tore the hive apart and the bees got upset.  But they returned to the hives fairly quickly.


Update 5/25/2021 on the split.  I checked the hive today and there's no queen.  There were a couple of empty queen cells so I think they made a new queen - but she didn't survive. There are still a few bees in the hive but they're dying off.  If I get a call about a swarm or a cutout, I'll put the bees in this hive.

The half of the split that had the old queen is doing fine.  Too bad I set them back with the split.