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