Do you have any occupants in your nest boxes? I put up a house sparrow terrace nest box several years ago. This box has several sections adjacent to each other as sparrows like communal living. Now the box is buzzing – literally. Rimsky-Korsakov in ‘The flight of the bumblebee’, here played by James Galway, captures the energy of the bees as they took up residence here. This section’s entry hole is now circled by guarding bees, who edge aside to allow a bee to fly out or in. From the left hand section of the nest box comes chirping of great tit chicks, their constant demand keeping their parents busy flying in and out. And not a sparrow nest in sight!
Bees featured in my childhood: one of my favourite childhood books was ‘Ant and Bee’; with great excitement I remember spending pocket money on a Single ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ which, though not entirely PC, always lifted our spirits, so ideal for this time. However, these did not increase my knowledge much about the real creatures, so I depend on Bumblebee Conservation Trust for my information here.
Bees are not always straightforward to identify. Luckily these ones are! Their ginger thorax, black body (abdomen) and white fluffy rear end (tail) are unique, in the UK at least.
Tree bees only arrived in the UK in 2001 from mainland Europe. They have spread widely, often nesting in bird boxes and in lofts. Our box is by our garage door, yet the bees rarely take any notice of us as we clatter around carrying garden forks and spades in and out. Only when after my umpteenth attempt to take a photo of them in their dark hole, and had ‘flashed’ them several times close up did they begin to express a bit of unhappiness with increased buzzing!
A queen chooses her nest site in March or April. Six weeks or so later, the larger worker bees go out to forage, while the smaller bees become ‘House bees’. They are excellent pollinators, particularly liking flowers like comfrey which hang downwards. During May and June a lot of bees may be flying around the nest site. These are males waiting for a queen to emerge and hoping to persuade her to mate with them. Male bees have no sting so there is no need to be concerned. If lucky, drones mate. Colonies die out in late July, with drones living independently for a while. Queens that have mated build themselves up, then hibernate for the winter; in spring the process starts again.
My challenge now is to spot these bees as they pollinate flowers – as The Big Rock Candy Mountain plays round and round in my head. I hope that it helps you dance along today too.
If you have tree bees – or species of any sort – you can enter them on irecord and help build up a picture of which species are where across the UK. This information contributes to effective conservation action.
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