Atwater Birdhouse Bees

March 14th, 2011 by Nate Murray - 0 comments

We got a call from Lorraine in Atwater Village who had bees in her birdhouse. Lorraine's neighbor noticed the bees and told Lorraine that she should have someone save them rather than exterminating them. Backwards Beekeepers to the rescue! 

I'd helped out on a cutout before, but this was the first time I'd been the lead. As such, I made a bunch of mistakes, which I'll explain below.  Thankfully, Russell came out and gave us some great advice on how to work the hive.

My father RG and I showed up mid-morning on Sunday. Lorraine told us that the birdhouse was used in a feature film and bought for her at a prop auction. She said she'd like to save the birdhouse if we could.


From the pictures Lorraine had sent me the birdhouse didn't look too big. How many bees could that birdhouse hold? It turns out *a lot*. This was my first mistake: under-estimating how many bees and how much comb could be packed into such a small space. (I'd only brought a single nuc and 8 frames. With a plain cardboard box for backup.)

The birdhouse was nailed to a pedestal so we smoked the bees a little, pulled the birdhouse out onto the lawn, and setup the cardboard box in the place where the birdhouse was originally.

We began to take the birdhouse apart. We started by opening the small door used to add bird seed and then we pried off the boards on the back. I used my knife and carefully cut off a piece of comb, put it in a frame, and placed it in my nuc. The birdhouse comb was so tall, that I had used up my 6 frames before I had taken off two layers of comb!

As best we could, we put the brood into the nuc and put any honey comb into a plastic bin. By the time we had removed all the comb bees had really started to gather on the front of the house. We had spotted the queen a couple times so we knew she was back there.

The front of the birdhouse had columns and a lot of detail work, so we couldn't scrape the bees off very easily without risking squishing the queen. We decided to shake the bees off the house onto a sheet. The only problem was that I forgot to bring a sheet! We improvised and used a large lid of a box.

The nuc was getting pretty full by this time, so we realized we needed to put this group of bees in the large cardboard "backup" box. We returned to the original location and many of the worker bees had returned home with pollen on their legs. We brushed them into the box and brought the box over to the birdhouse.
We shook the birdhouse bees onto the lid on the ground and quickly poured them into the cardboard box. To give them a reason to stay in the box, I put comb in one of the extra frames I had and put it in the cardboard box. This turned out to be a big mistake.

We thought we had the queen in the cardboard box, but to make sure we took a walk to have a drink and give the bees time to regroup. When we returned we were happy to see that the bees outside the box were trying to get in the box. This confirmed for us that the queen was very-likely in the box.

We cleaned up our tools, taped up the boxes, and put everything in our car.  Another mistake I made: I parked right up where we were working. When we were trying to leave there were still a number of angry bees flying around so it was quite an ordeal trying to get into our car without a bunch of bees joining us inside.
When we got back to my place we opened up the nuc and put the frames into the hive bodies and shook in the bees. So far so good. 

We cut the tape on the cardboard box and were anticipating the bees the swarm out of the box in some apocalyptic display. We were prepared to try to dump the bees into my hive bodies as quick as possible.
We opened the box, but the bees didn't swarm out. In fact, they didn't do much of anything. We looked in the box and I was saddened by what I found. The frames of comb had melted and drown probably a third of the bees. The rest of the bees were sticky and slow.  I realized in that moment that the bees had probably overheated. I should have taped a screen to the box and taken out the comb before we traveled. 

I'm not sure if the queen made it. We put bees that were still living into the hives. I'll check back in a day or two to see how they like their new home, but I hope they can regroup and flourish in their hives as well as they were doing in their birdhouse mansion.

Lessons learned:

  • Bring enough nucs + frames
  • Don't park right next to where you are working
  • Don't put comb in a cardboard box where it might come loose
  • Make sure your bees can breathe! Don't let them overheat.
Tags: cutout
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