Subject: Bees – and behavior?
Location: Morgantown, WV
January 13, 2013 10:48 am
Hello Bugman,
We are having a January thaw in W. Virginia and I’ve had an invasion of what I think are honeybees – they’ve been excavating my birdfeeder. I was wondering if you could tell me what exactly they are doing and if I need to do anything about them? They have already kicked out about half of the bird seed and show no sign of stopping. I’m not terribly worried given that the weather is supposed to change again tomorrow. But I am very curious!
Signature: Bugwatcher Guitry

Honey Bees

Dear Bugwatcher Guitry,
Probably the person most qualified to answer your questions would be a local bee keeper, but we will try to speculate.  These are definitely Honey Bees.  This odd behavior is definitely linked to the unseasonably warm weather.  Perhaps it triggered a swarming activity and these workers are searching for a new location for a hive.  They are certainly not eating the bird seeds, but they might be emptying the feeder in a futile effort to create a new hive.  Alas, they will most likely perish when the weather changes.  We wonder if there are any other examples of this occurring right now.

Dear Bugman,
Thank you so much for your reply and speculation. The bees emptied the entire feeder – and then left. Sadly I suspect they will perish if not tonight then very soon. It was about 68°F here yesterday. Now we are at the high temperature for the day at 43°. Watching them over the weekend was quite fascinating. My neighbor, who lives about a quarter of a mile away does keep bees. I will have to ask him – perhaps they were some of his bees.
As always – I cannot thank you enough for your wonderful website. Thank you for your time and insights.
Bugwatcher Guitry

Let us know if your beekeeper neighbor has a theory.

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Location: West Virginia

7 Responses to Honey Bees: Odd Winter Behavior

  1. aberogan says:

    We too saw honeybees way late in the season here in northern IL..just a few scouts out and about in late December. It was chilly but not freezing.

    • bugman says:

      Thanks so much for your input. It is not unusual for worker Honey Bee scouts to venture out on a warm day during the winter in search of nectar. The fascinating mystery about this posting is that the Bees seemed to be interested in the feeder for something other than food.

  2. ZombieFlanderz says:

    Superior choice of birdfeeder my friend. Hours of fun watching those hurl squirrels with great force.

  3. Beeman says:

    In the absence of pollen, they are searching for a protein source. They pack the dust off of bird feed or, in my case, goat pellets, much the same as they store pollen. It is caused by several warm days in a row telling them to lay eggs. They need the pollen to feed the brood.

  4. McBee says:

    I second what Beeman said… they’re gathering the dust, which is most likely crushed seed kernels from processing, as a protein source, like pollen.

    Put out a pile of wheat flour or something like that and you may deter them from messing with your bird feeder.

    This is common behavior when it gets warm enough that the colony breaks cluster and begins to rear brood. They will be back again next time until the first big spring blooms hit.

    If you really want to help them out, pick up a pollen supplement like Bee Pro from Mann Lake and put out a pollen feeder (a quart jar on a chick feeder from TSC works well if you put an overhanging board over the jar with a brick on top to keep out rain).

    Don’t leave it out in freezing weather or you’ll only be feeding pests like rodents.

    Hope this helps!

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