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.

This home-made nest box on a Land for Wildlife property at Flaxton became occupied by a colony of native bees. One of the telltale signs of native bees is the dark, reddish wax and stains around the entrance. Keep an eye out for the small, stingless, black native bees that will come and go on warm days.

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.

These gliders were found in a glider nest box that had old honeycomb attached to the roof of the box. It is thought that a colony of European Honey Bees used this box temporarily. However, because glider nest boxes are too small for honeybee hives to sustainably survive, the hive quickly moved on. It looks like the gliders may have nibbled on the honeycomb as a sweet treat! Photos taken from Alex Forest Bushland Conservation Reserve, a registered Land for Wildlife property at Alexandra Headland.

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.

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


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15 responses on “Bees in Nest Boxes – a sticky problem

  1. 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.

  2. 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,

  3. 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.

    1. Hi Scott
      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.

    2. It’s is not completely untrue that swarm bees are more likely to swarm again. My bees, from genetics developed in the Rottnest programme, are very resistant to swarming, compared to ones I acquired in the past from swarms.

  4. 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.

    1. 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,.

      1. “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.

        1. Actual observation is enough, without “scientific proof”. I am a scientist, so that makes my observations and deductions scientific.
          From beekeeping perspective, these feral hives, unchecked for disease,WILL be the vectors for transmission and amplification of bee infestations with Varroa destructor, then further spread of SHB to weakened hives, as now seen in Eastern states. Feral hives are bad news for multiple reasons. Yes, try to find a willing aoiarist to “rescue”, but if not possible, kill them out before they inevitably swarm again.

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

    1. 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

  7. Wondering how to have a possum box without inviting bees. Perth WA, Hills. Lots of problems here with possum boxes being taken over by lovely bees.

  8. We removed had bees removed from a parrot box and washed out obvious traces with boiling water – ringnecks and Pink and Greys had previously used it but now look but won’t touch. Is there a cleaning regime we can use which will make it attractive to parrots again?

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