How Do I Get Bees to Move out of a Birdhouse?

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Zsuzsa of Florida asks: I have honey bees that moved into a birdhouse. They are very active and seem like they will grow out of the little cottage. I bought a nice hive box for them, but they are not showing any interest in moving over. Is there any way to attract them to the new, big comfortable hive body?

Rusty Burlew replies:

I read your question before seeing the photos and thought, it must be bumblebees you have because they are famous for choosing birdhouses. Then I saw your pictures.

The swarm that moved into your birdhouse must have been a tertiary or even quaternary swarm. The first or primary swarm contains a mated queen. The succeeding swarms, if there are any, are smaller and smaller and usually have a virgin queen, which means they have an extremely low probability of surviving. If everything goes right and the queen manages to mate and good nectar-gathering weather holds out, it’s possible a small swam can make it, but it’s most unlikely.

I don’t know where you live so I don’t know how cold your winters are, but as a general rule, the colony needs to be fairly large to keep itself warm. In addition, most places in North American require from 40 to 90 pounds of honey to make it through the winter. As you can see, that won’t work in the birdhouse.

On the other hand, it’s hard to get them to move. They are probably short on workers that are the proper age to secrete wax, so it’s not likely they will leave what they have and move into a bare room without “furniture.” Probably the only hope would be to open the birdhouse, cut any combs they have built out of the birdhouse and tie them, one by one, into frames in the new hive. They will then stick with those combs, and perhaps expand into the larger box. However, it will all be dependent on whether the queen has mated, so the first thing to do would be to check for eggs or brood. Without, a laying queen, any moving of comb would be pointless.

Thanks for sharing your photos. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a honey bee colony in birdhouse. Interesting find!

– Rusty

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