Nest boxes are a great way to increase the number of hollows and therefore the number of hollow dependant animals using your property. Installing them does require some maintenance, as a couple of introduced species can occasionally use nest boxes. One of these introduced species is the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera); the bee that produces the honey we eat.
Sometimes native bees will also use nest boxes. Native bees are much smaller than European Honey Bees and are black in colour. If you do get native bees in your nest box… congratulations! This is a perfect example of what nest boxes are for, and you’ll have lots of good native pollinators on your property.
If you see European Honey Bees coming and going from a nest box and they have not been there long, you can try deterring them by getting the garden hose out and giving them a good wet down. This often works if the bees have only just moved into their new home as the bees will quickly get the idea that the hollow is too wet, and it is an unsuitable new home.
Sometimes smaller nest boxes such as small parrot or glider boxes will have a hive of bees settle temporarily. These bees often move on in a couple of weeks or months as the box is too small for the hive to be sustainable. Possum boxes and other larger nest boxes usually attract permanent hives as the box is large enough to support an active bee hive.
If European Honey Bees have become established in a nest box, using a nonresidual insecticide to kill the bees is your next best option. Such insecticides are commercially available and are branded as a wasp control, usually with the active chemical being d-Allethrin and/or d-Phenothrin. Such non-residual chemicals allow you the option of leaving the honey and honeycomb for the gliders and possums to eat. Therefore, you do not have to bring the nestbox down to clean it out.
If you are using a residual insecticide, you will need to take the nest box down, clean it out and dispose of the honey and honeycomb after treatment. Regardless of which insecticide you use, treated honey should not be harvested for human consumption.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that an apiarist will come out and acquire the bee hive, as once European Honey Bees have swarmed, they are more likely to swarm again and not stay put in a constructed bee hive.
When dealing with European Honey Bees in a nest box it is important to remember, “safety first”. Not only are you dealing with an insect that can give a painful sting, you are doing so at heights. Be prepared to keep a cool and level head up the ladder and cover up all skin preferably with overalls, rubber gloves and a mozzie head net (available from camping and disposals stores). Use a ladder safely preferably with two people present (one to climb and one to hold the ladder steady) and always try to have three points of contact with the ladder at all times (e.g. two arms and one leg or one arm and two legs).
If you are using chemicals, always follow instructions, use as directed and preferably use a wasp spray that you can spray from four metres away
For more information on nest boxes and monitoring please see the Land for Wildlife Note A2 on Nest Boxes in your Land for Wildlife folder or download it from www. lfwseq.org.au
Thanks to Alan and Stacey Franks from Hollow Log Homes for their comments on this article.
References & Further Reading
Franks A & S (2007) Nest Boxes for Wildlife: A practical guide. The Green Book Company
Article by Stephanie Reif
Land for Wildlife
Officer Sunshine Coast Council
11 responses on “Bees in Nest Boxes – a sticky problem”
I’m told by people here in Perth WA that if you use a corrugated iron roof and also leave a small air gap between it and the walls it discourages bees.
At the Organ Pipes National Park in Victoria we have lots of bees problem with other boxes but never had bees in our Bat Boxes.
These only have a slit in the base,
In other boxes we tried everyting carpet on the ceiling, changing orientation nothing helped. An Entimologist told us bees must have a flat surface at the entrance so they can fan a hive to keep it cool,
It very disappointing that this article is advocating the unnecessary use is insecticide to deal with bees in nest boxes. If you are going to the effort, risk and expense of killing the bees, why not contact an apiarist who will remove and save the bees which have a very important role in our environment. I have successfully removed many bee hives from nesting boxes and other unwanted places and saved to the bees.
It’s completely incorrect to suggest that bees are “more likely to swarm again and not stay put in a constructed bee hive”. All bee colonies will attempt to swarm as this is the natural reproduction of the super-organism so a swarm that has occupied a nest box is no different to any other hive, including managed hives.
Physical removal of the bees is the only ethical and environmentally sound method of dealing with this problem and one has to accept that there is potential for any nest box to attract native or European bees. For this reason, when installing nest boxes, make sure that they can be easily taken down. Avoid using screws through the inside of the box that become inaccessible once a colony of bees has moved in.
We agree that the ideal scenario would be to relocate European bees from nest boxes, but this is not always practical or safe to do so.
Thanks for sharing your views.
Better still if you’re in South East Queensland contact these wonderful people. They’ll help with all bees, feral or native. https://www.indigibee.com/
This article is ridiculous and should be updated. As an apiarist I’ve removed bees from many boxes. The information you have included In This article regarding removal of swarms and Rehoming is incorrect.
I’ve collected many swarms and re-homed them in hives without any issue.
It is irresponsible to advise people to hose out, or poison bees. There would be many local beekeepers who would be more than happy to remove bees for free.
From an ecological perspective it is ethical to kill feral bees. European bees are an invasive species that cause much harm to local wildlife and outcompete other native wasps and bees. They should be killed and removed to prevent causing further harm and ecological damage. Our native pollinators can adequately pollinate our native flora without feral bees. You may want to rescue these bees from an economical perspective, but environmentally they are as damaging as foxes and rabbits,.
“as damaging as foxes and rabbits”? Is there some scientific evidence to support this? Would be good to know if they are in fact that damaging.
This article is good but I think using Nest Boxes is not much satisfactory for bee removal. Instead, we can call the bee control specialist to do this work.
I have native bees nesting in 2 areas in our metal folding shutter doors. We live in far north qld. Is there any way I can gently rehouse them somewhere else?
Hi Maggie. There are many different species of native bees. Some solitary bees (e.g. resin, leaf-cutter, blue-banded bees) nest in between closely packed layers like you describe – you can simply try to cut out the nest and put it close-by (within half a metre) jammed within two new layers of something to try to match the original nest and the adult bees should be able to find it. If it is a social native bee nest, they can be difficult to relocate unless you can cut out the whole brood (about the size of a rockmelon). See this website for more info https://sugarbag.net/faq