Do honey bees leave the hive in the winter and return in the spring? Ours are gone now.

This question makes me sad. No, honey bees do not leave and return. If they are gone, they’re not coming back. They may have absconded, meaning they abandoned their hive and selected another location to live, or the colony may have died out for one reason or another. I can’t say much more without knowing the details. Depending on where you live, it is remotely possible that a different colony might move into your old equipment, but it’s not something you should count on. If you want to continue keeping bees, you need to acquire a new colony.

Comments

Nancy
Reply

Oh that headline is SO sad! I hope the reader will get some more bees and stay with it. Best wishes to them (and their bees wherever they are!)

Nan

HB
Reply

I must be a Negative Nelly. It’s not the headline that makes me sad, but rather that it was asked at all. Of course I don’t know the situation, as to how the asker acquired bees, but the lack of self-education prior to starting as a beekeeper annoys me. Winter is for reading . . . what were they doing all winter?

Rena
Reply

Negative Nelly, they might not be beekeepers but rather inquiring about a wild colony such as myself. I was researching the same thing because a wild swarm settled in my yard, so I hope you don’t get too sad when people post questions about bee habits. This is a forum for people to share their knowledge and insight not for picking on people who ask questions.

Rusty
Reply

Rena,

Two things: First, I didn’t post the entire quote because it was too long to work into the format I have chosen. I assure you, the question was about a beekeeper’s purchased colony. Second, this is not a forum; it is a personal website wherein I select the content. If it’s a forum you want, there are plenty out there.

Gary Fawcett
Reply

Hee Hee, yes sounds like a swarm moved in to the old hive.

You really need to make sure why the bees left, and check that the hive isn’t full of disease.

Doesn’t it sound great that the bees travel away for winter to a nice warm place and then return in spring :)

See ya…Gary

Tricia Lockhart
Reply

It’s the last thread of optimism that they may have gone for the winter that is so sad. For a beekeeper it brings back the memory of every loss. On the plus side, the bees and their swarming (thought this wasn’t swarming as otherwise some would remain) is part of the way they multiply!

Bill Castro
Reply

I have had bees abscond due to becoming pollen bound in fall…

Andrea
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Question!

I just installed my first package a week ago, into a top bar hive. The queen was dead in her cage & I was told this usually means there is a queen in the package loose, so give it 3-5 days and see what happens. The weather immediately took a turn for the worse, with days inn the 50s and nights below freezing. At first we saw some bees making flights, but over the past few days, nothing.

Due to the cold weather, I haven’t had a chance to take a look until today, exactly a week from when I installed them. The bees are all clustered on the floor of the hive. The cluster is just about the size of a baseball. They hadn’t discovered the sugar I’d put behind the follower, no comb has been built, and there’s signs of defecation inside the hive (3 or 4 spots of bee poo on one wall).

I moved the sugar in next to them instead of leaving it behind the follower, and lightly dusted the cluster with it so they have at least a little something to eat that they can’t help but find.

My question is, what next? If I need to order another package, it needs to happen asap, likewise if I just need to order a queen. The next several days are supposed to be gloriously warm and sunny, with more moderate night time lows. Do I wait another few days and see what happens? Should I go ahead and order a whole new package? Order just a queen?

The place I got the bees from says they have no idea about bees in top bar hives, so they aren’t any help!

Rusty
Reply

Andrea,

Whoever told you that a dead queen in her cage meant there is a queen loose in the package was either ignorant or lying. And anyway, even in the remote chance there was a loose queen in the package, you paid for the one in the queen cage and she should be alive and healthy.

With the queen dead, and no way of making a queen, the colony is just dying. It is hopeless. At this point, you need a whole new package including the queen. If the queen in the cage was dead and they sent you home without a replacement, they owe you a whole new package, including a live queen, at no extra charge.

In the meantime, put starter strips in your top-bar hive, if you haven’t already. Also, it’s not clear if you gave them solid sugar or syrup, but it should be syrup. Without lots of food they can’t build comb. So make syrup and add an attractant like lemongrass oil or anise oil so they can find it easier.

Next time, attach the queen cage to a middle bar and leave her in it a few day until comb building begins.

Andrea, I’m going to post this on the front page to see what other people think. I hope they agree.

Good luck, and next year get your bees from someone else.

Kathy
Reply

I have had a colony of bees take over 2 of my sprinkler boxes during the last 5 summers. They thrive and are so productive very calm I can walk right up to the box and bend down to watch them work so they are not Africanized. But sometime in the mid fall, they all abandon the hive, honey and all. (I like to consider it a gift. If only I could harvest the honey but it is too dirty from the leaf blowers.) I clean out the wax and honey each year and each year they return to build a new hive. Is this normal? Are they the same bees or are they a new colony that “smells” the former colony and takes over the space? I live in Northwest Phoenix and have many blooming bushes in my yard as well a a humming bird feeder. (I know they need a water source.)

Rusty
Reply

Kathy,

I would say it is unusual just because honey bees seldom nest in the ground. Some do, but it’s not common. On the other hand, I’ve heard quite a few stories of bees living in sprinkler boxes. I don’t know what the attraction is, other than the boxes tend to get condensation inside and maybe the bees consider that a convenient water source, especially in drier areas like where you live.

Why they are abandoning it is a mystery because they probably won’t be able to survive the winter without the honey they stored. I’m guessing that new bees are moving in each time. New colonies are attracted to the scent where colonies have been in the past and frequently will re-populate a previously used nest.

Waylon
Reply

I was given two hives this year that had not been touched in over 4 years. I set them both up next to the field behind my house, and after a few days opened the door of their hive so they could get used to the new location. I have kept an eye on the hives since but have not opened them. Thursday morning I went out hoping to get a frame of honey out of the super on top of one of them only to find them both completely empty, no honey, bees, nothing. There was a little empty comb in the bottom of one but that was all. Any ideas?

Rusty
Reply

Waylon,

I can’t say because I don’t have enough information. It would depend mostly on what condition the colonies were in when you got them, but also where you are living (what climate), how long they’ve been in your field, what they had for forage, etc. Also, were they infected with mites, beetles, or moths? How much honey did they have when you got them? How old were the queens? There are endless possibilities.

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