Monday, May 31, 2010

Bees Move into the Nest Box

Like last year, bees have moved into the screech owl nest box. One more problem to deal with. Or maybe not – for some reason they abandoned the box at some point last year. (During the worst of the drought? Probably, but I can’t remember.) Then, one or more fox squirrels cleaned out the nest box, initially, I presume, as a means to harvest the honey. A rare treat for a squirrel, I’d guess. They saved me a lot of large-scale cleanup work, so that worked-out well, though I still had plenty of detail-oriented cleaning to do, like getting the last remnants of comb off of the attic camera compartment glass, which proved to be quite difficult – and not, to my surprise, 100% successful.

I was surprised when the bees moved in at all. Until last year, the box had been up continuously for a decade, and bees had ignored it the whole time. That was in stark contrast to my first screech owl nest box, which was occupied by bees in its first spring, just after the owls moved out. It stayed occupied by those bees for about six years. We got along fine, and the bees took excellent care of the box (they performed actual maintenance, like sealing cracks that developed in the wood), but it did mean that I had to build a new box for the next year. And the year after that I built the prototype for my first camera-equipped nest box – a design that’s proved so flexible, it’s still meeting my needs more than 11 years later.

(Ultimately, I significantly upgraded the prototype and donated it to the Austin Nature & Science Center, but I haven’t heard anything from them in years. If they ever got nesting owls, they haven’t told me. At the time, they mentioned the possibility of putting up a donor plaque for me, which would have been gratifying, but if that ever happened, they haven’t told be me about that, either.)

The thing about the bees is that my reading indicated that they could be prevented (or was it merely “discouraged”?) from occupying a nest box by rubbing the ceiling with a bar of soap. The idea being that the soap makes it difficult or impossible for them to attach their combs, so they give up and go elsewhere. I thought the current nest box was safe because most of its ceiling was glass, which, years of experience suggested, was even more difficult to attach comb to than soap-coated wood. Apparently, I just got lucky. In point of fact, glass didn’t seem to pose much of a problem for them last year.

After last year, I not only cleaned out every last trace of previous bee presence that I could, but I took a bar of soap and gave the wooden structures near the top of the nest box interior a good rubbing, reasoning that the glass probably was sub-optimal for comb attachment, and that the surrounding wooden structures must have played a role in anchoring the comb. Unfortunately, the combination of glass and soap-rubbed wood doesn’t seem to have worked.

So that’s another problem on my plate. Oh, joy.

I’m hoping the bees will abandon the box even earlier this year than last, and that the local squirrels will lend a hand with the cleanup work, but it’ll take a while for that process to occur, if it’s going to.

On the plus side, I suppose I can take the bees presence as a compliment to my wildflower meadow (AKA most of my back yard), which did better this year than it has in some time. (And, rains permitting, it should do even better next year.)

By the way, in this part of the country there’s no way of knowing whether any of my three bee colonies were composed of conventional European honey bees, or their Africanized cousins (the so-called “killer” bees). But the possibility is nothing to get worked-up about, according to my reading of various of Sue Hubbell’s books (all recommended, but A Country Year is my favorite). If I remember Sue correctly, throughout South and Central America, where Africanized bees have displaced conventional, European honey bees, beekeepers go right on working the way they always have. Nonetheless, news crews from the ’States persist in visiting and, not wanting to leave with a boring story about how “killer” bees aren’t death on the wing, and how more people in the U.S. die of stings from conventional bees every year than the “killer” bees, the crews pay the beekeepers to intentionally aggravate the bees so they can get shots of all that alleged aggression.

Nonetheless, while I have no particular fear of bees, I also lack a beekeeper’s knowledge of how to handle them, so I won’t be tangling with them (no matter what species they are). Hopefully, like last year, they’ll move along of their own volition, and the squirrels will once again do me the favor of cleaning-up the box afterward.


  1. Gee, could you put the camera back on, or is that too expensive? I think that would be another spectacular show, first bees and then the squirrel clean-up job!

  2. The camera can be turned-on again. I'm not sure how interesting it will be, but I'm willing to let
    people see for themselves.

  3. Alison in Indiana8:28 PM CDT

    Having read this, I immediately went to your site. But it is still in owl season end mode.
    I will keep checking back and if there are bees to observe, I will share that fact with various nature freaks like myself.

  4. Oh my gosh. They have been busy. Wow!!!

  5. Alison in Indiana7:12 PM CDT

    Wow, cool, thank-you, Chris. Amazing round comb (real honey, do you think?) much clearer than I thought it would be.

  6. Alison Brown7:27 AM CDT

    The comb continues to swell inside the box. Do you have any beekeepers in your area you might consult? http:// www. texasbeekeepers. org/ Why let the squirrels get all the sweet fruit of their labor, when you might have some honey harvest to recompense you for your detailed cleanup work.

  7. Alison in Indiana6:08 PM CDT

    I visited your site after returning from Austria Monday and see that the images are from July. Did the squirrels do their clean up yet?

  8. Alison, I'm afraid the nest box is still full of bees (sufficiently full that it didn't seem like it was worth continuing the live images). At some point I'm going to have to do something about that....

  9. Once bees have occupied a space the smell of beeswax will continue to attract them. Almond extract will help keep the bees away. There are also commercial products that will drive them out (butyric acid is one).

  10. almond extract will help keep bees out. Not sure what the owl will think of it.

    Bees have no problem attaching comb to glass, they can clean soap off as well. they don't like light.