What to Do if You See a Swarm of Bees

Honey Bee Swarm
Honey Bee Swarm

What would you do if a swarm of honey bees landed in your garden? Probably like most people you would panic and think the end of the world was not far behind the swarm. Not so, of course. Swarms are the normal behaviour of honey bees and it is the way they multiply. When the population reaches a certain point and conditions are right, they produce extra queens and the colony splits and part of it leaves with one of the queens. When honeybees swarm they are usually very passive. They have their bellies full of honey and all they want to do is to turn it into wax and build combs with it. But, though we now know that having a swarm of bees land on or near your home is not such a bad thing really, it would still be a good idea to get them dealt with by an expert.

The reasons are few but compelling. They may be checking out your roof or wall with the intention of making their home there. If you are a fan of bees and do not mind having them living in your roof, that is not too bad. But what if you need to get some work done in the future or the honey starts dripping and discolouring your internal walls etc.? Or what if they keep accidentally finding their way into your home through cracks in the ceiling of woodwork? There are many homes where the homeowners and the bees have lived in harmony for decades, but this does not suit everyone. There are probably even more homes where the homeowner was not even aware of the bees living in his roof or wall for years until it was pointed out to him/her.

What if the neighbours are afraid of them. Bees in your roof can be a problem for your neighbours even if not directly a problem for you. It may help if you explain that they are not really dangerous and they are good for the environment and the economy and their kitchen table. But this does not always sink in.

Once they move into their chosen spot in your building, they can be difficult to remove. They naturally do not choose the most convenient and accessible location for you. They deliberately choose a spot that their enemies cannot easily reach. The honey bee’s worst enemy is probably the neighbouring honey bee hive or wasps. But that is not why they build their colonies in such inaccessible locations. That is to protect from other enemies, which would traditionally have been a bear or other large furry animal. It has been a long time since bears were a big problem for them in Europe but they continue the best practice for building nests. i.e. “build em high”.

If they are in your home they will probably have lodged somewhere under the roof tiles or in the wall cavity or even in your chimney. If they are in your chimney, you will know from the buzz and the occasional visit from bewildered bees. Either way, they will need to be cut out. The tiles are taken off and the flashing cut out and the bees bodily picked up and carried to a nearby box and taken to a safe location. This is not something that the average homeowner can do on a Saturday afternoon when he has nothing else to do. And I have not mentioned the stinging yet.

Most bees are preoccupied with their own business, i.e. foraging for food for the hive, building comb in the hive or generally running the hive. They are not interested in what you are doing… that is, until you come near their front door and look like you might be taking an interest in them. So, beehive removal is not something that can be done by just anyone.

Ideally “your” bees should be removed before they move into your home, while they are still in the Swarm hanging on a branch in your garden or on your wall before they move in. A beekeeper can capture them quite easily even if he has to climb a ladder to do it. They can be knocked off the branch into a box or swept off the wall into the box without too much trouble. Many will go airborne but they will not leave as they will want to stay near their queen and will follow her scent into the box if you capture her. Even now the bees are disinclined to sting but a procedure like this is not totally safe and should not be done without wearing protection. A bee suit and gloves.

Prime swarming time is late spring or early summer when the bees have had a chance to build up a population. Honey bees can swarm in late summer or even early autumn, but the later they swarm the lower their chances of surviving the coming winter. This is because they need to build comb in their nest and accumulate enough stores to get them through the winter as well as populating the hive with the winter bees. These things generally take time and time is not on their side if they swarm late. A beekeeper can help by feeding them and giving them a warm home, but even so, their chances are slim. So they often join them with a strong colony that they already have.

So to answer the question we asked at the beginning of the page, “What would you do if a swarm of honey bees landed in your garden?”, you would call an expert, i.e. a local beekeeper. He may deal with it for you or he may not. His option. Not all beekeepers are willing to take it on. Not all beekeepers are physically able to climb ladders and manoeuvre the box at the top. But, they will usually know someone who can do the job for you. The last thing you should do is call an exterminator. We are losing enough bees already and we don’t want to lose any more than we have to. If the bees are a danger to the public, by all means, do what you have to, but otherwise, let the local beekeepers deal with it or at least advise you.