honey bee behavior swarming

“A swarm in June . . .” No, make that two

The noise got louder as I walked up the hill. It was coming from the vicinity of the middle hive stand, which is on a steep incline. At first I thought the swarm was down the hill from where I stood, so for a few moments I thrashed through the underbrush looking for it. But as I listened more carefully, I realized it was overhead. My fleeting hope of catching it was dashed.

It took a long time to pinpoint the swarm because the racket from the other hives was confusing. But I finally spotted it, high in a red alder.

If you know anything at all about the Pacific Northwest coast, you know we grow trees like nobody’s business. They go up and up—nothing like those cute little saplings they have back east.

Now, nearly any bee book will tell you that a newly issued swarm will land within a few yards of the parent hive while it re-groups and decides where to live. Well, this is true if you’re talking about the horizontal direction. But while these bees landed about three yards east of the hive, they were many yards away in the vertical direction. Books never tell you that.

This was a huge swarm, much bigger than the one in the cypress. But even with a telephoto lens, I could barely see the thing. I examined the three hives below it and, of course, I couldn’t figure out where it came from. They all looked just as busy as before, although I’m sure it came from one of the three.

So, with two swarms treed within minutes of each other, I decided to check my bait hives. Three of them already had looky-loos—bees flying in, then out, examining the exterior, going back in. House hunting, I suppose, then checking out the local schools, shopping, parks, and freeway access. The swarm traps, as usual, showed no activity.

I watched the bait hives now and again till nightfall, but the swarms were quiet. It was clear they would spend the night in the trees, discussing moving companies, home inspections, and financing terms.

To be continued . . .


You can barely see the swarm in the alder tree.


  • Hi Rusty, I have been reading everything you write with great interest. As a first year beek, swarms are something that baffle me a bit. After a three week vacation I just discovered a swarm underneath one of my hives. The hive is sitting on two cinder blocks and has a screened bottom board. They have started to build a small amount of comb attached to the screen which does not appear to have any brood in it. I would like to capture them to start a new nuc, but have no idea how to go about that. Any ideas?

    Many thanks,

    • Bianca,

      Are you sure it’s a swarm and not part of the established colony? Did you check for a queen? You can always cut the combs off and tie them into frames, but first I would make sure you have a queen in there. If you can’t find a queen, look for eggs in the new comb.

      • Hi Rusty, I am not sure it’s a swarm at all. I did not find the queen during the inspection, but I did see eggs. It’s a very strong colony in two deeps and a medium, no QE. From what I can tell there is no brood in the comb underneath….yet. It’s only a small piece ( 8 x 5 roughly) and one tiny piece. If they are from the colony, do I leave them there? Are they looking for room? Has it been too hot (90+ degrees consistently)? They do have a slatted rack, btw.

        If they are not from the hive, would the queen most likely be on the comb?

        Either way, if I have to remove them, what’s my best shot?


        • Bianca,

          1. I would not leave them there regardless of where they came from. If they are from the colony above, you don’t want to encourage them to build down there. If they are from elsewhere, you would want to set up a separate hive. Yes, the heat may have something to do with it.

          2. Yes, if they are from elsewhere the queen would likely be on the comb.

          3. Remove them by slicing along the top of the comb and then tie the combs into empty frames with string or rubber bands.

  • Took down a tree Saturday had bees in it today is Monday and they are just hanging around in a pile what can I do to get them in a hive

    • David,

      Just scoop them up and drop them in. If they like it, they will stay. If they have a queen, they may survive.

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