Bees in Idaho: a beekeeper’s first swarm

Your first swarm is soooo exciting! Ken Rhodes of Idaho Falls built a little platform for his swarm trap in the crotch of a large tree. Then, while he was at work, his very first swarm moved in. Ken’s son, Jeffrey, was lucky enough to witness move-in day and caught the action on his cell phone.

I love the fact that this gorgeous tree is in town, right next to the street. Good job! Thanks to you both for some great photos.

A beekeeper's first swarm

As you can see, the tree is in town, right next to the street. It looks like a great place for bees. © Jeffrey Rhodes.

A swarm in Idaho

The swarm trap is wedged in the tree and balanced on wooden supports. © Jeffrey Rhodes.




  • Wow! That is really cool. Nice catch Ken. Now the fun begins. I wonder how you are going to pick that hive off the platform without a mishap.

  • Hey Rusty! I hope this finds you well. I am a second year beekeeper who has never had the swarm experience. But I think I have an impending one on my hands. Is it true that they will do a few practice swarm flights before the actual swarm? I had my hive in a super sunny & hot location (near the adjacent lane & all my neighbors). Neighbor saw them swarm flying & called. I was able to observe the swarm flying around. It didn’t last long as they soon settled onto our fence then back onto the outside of the hive & eventually back inside. Do they practice swarm flying before actual swarming? Thanks so much. LOVE your blog & commenters. I have learned so much!

    • Shavon,

      No, honey bees do not practice in preparation for a swarm. Sometimes a swarm leaves but the queen doesn’t come along, so the swarm has to return and try again another day. But if all goes well the first time, they do not return.

  • ok ok ok. I see. I def didn’t see the old queen on the lading board at any time. But it was mega cool to watch them all fly like that & my neighbor was amazed that I wasn’t getting stung (I gave him a little lesson). Because of this swarm I had to move this hive to the very back of my property, which is the best spot for them. I’ve got a bait hive setup now on the outskirts of the apiary that I need some swarm lure for & I am just hoping they will pick that location when they do swarm as I want to let them swarm than me make a split. I need to get that Seely book, too.

  • I just had 3 swarms in 2 hours despite my best efforts making splits. 2 were housed just fine, the third one went back to the original hive after 3 hours.

    The next morning they swarmed again, this time to the top of a pear tree. I used my orchard ladder to climb the 16′ to reach them only to have a branch snap and the bee ball of 25K bees fall onto my head. Had to keep my cool as they flew all around me regrouping. After cutting the branch I lowered them down and shook them into a hive.

    Between splits and swarms I just went from 4 hives to 13. Yikes!

  • It just so happens that I have a very sturdy 12ft step ladder that I used to easily place it in the tree. I will use it to get it down. (Believe me, I considered what needs to be done before I placed it there). I will do this in the next few days after the water in the yard where they are going dries up a bit. (It is flood irrigated—7 acres of alfalfa in the country).

  • Native bees abound in Idaho Falls. That would be my next project, to be able to identify many of them.

    By the way, I was able to relocate this swarm to the place I mentioned earlier. I did it on Wednesday night, the 14th. It was quite heavy, full of bees, so I placed another box on top when I got them settled. Only one sting. I hadn’t accounted for the few bees outside of the box when I lifted it out of the tree and then descended down the ladder. Well, one of them nailed my ring finger on the knuckle just above my ring. I was a bit worried about swelling, but even though I couldn’t get my ring off, it didn’t swell too badly. (I could just imagine my finger swelling so much that my ring would cut off the circulation and I would have to cut my ring off). Alas, worse case scenario, it didn’t happen. I am happy, bees are happy, and the tree is empty. (Kind of miss them up there).


  • Way cool experience! I have two bait hives out and am making an “official” swarm trap that I can lift/attach higher off ground. My two bait hives had scouts checking them out today and I enjoyed just watching them wondering what they were thinking. I so want to expand my apiary and am hoping my vacancy signs will bring them in! My curiosity wonders…what’s the farthest or average distance a swarm might come from to take up residence in my hive?

    • Alice,

      Offhand, I don’t know. But I’m sure that question is answered in Seeley’s book Honeybee Democracy.

  • Rusty,

    I have caught my first ever swarm in my bait hive. Inside the bait hive includes 2 drawn frames. I will be transferring these bees to a different box and the new location is only a couple of hundred yards away. I’m unsure of how to proceed from here. How many days do I give them before transferring them? Do I close them up for a day before moving them? I’m just at a loss for what to do now that I have caught them. Can you give me a few instructions? Thanks in advance.

    • Brandie,

      When I discover a swarm in a bait hive or swarm trap, I move them absolutely as soon as possible. As soon as they decide on a place to live (your swarm trap) they will orient to their new location. After that, it is harder to move them.

      So when you do move them you have to account for most of them flying back to the old location. Locking them up for a few days can help because it forces them to reorient, but there will still be stranglers that go back to the original location. Or you can move them a couple of miles away for a couple weeks and then move them back. Refer to the posts on moving a hive a short distance.

  • I love in St Albans England. I saw a swarm 2 weeks ago over my bungalow, settled in hedge at front of bungalow, and left about 7 Hrs later. This week saw another swarm really loud. This one just went over bungalow and moved up the road. Can you tell me why this could be happening.

    • Brenda,

      This is swarm season in much of the northern hemisphere, including England. During swarm season, which usually lasts a few months, colonies of bees divide into smaller groups. One group stays in the original hive and the other leaves to find a new home.

      This division and relocating is a form of colony-wide reproduction. Where you had one colony, you soon have two. The original one may swarm again after a few days or weeks, making three or more colonies where there was once only one. Nearly all healthy honey bee colonies will reproduce like this unless the beekeeper takes steps to prevent it.

      Soon after a group (what we call a swarm) leaves the original colony, it will settle in a convenient spot for a few hours, days, or even a week or more. The bulk of those bees will stay right there while a smaller group of scout bees goes out to search for a good place to build a new home. This makes sense because it conserves energy and is safer for the bees if just some do the house-hunting while the others conserve their energy for later.

      Once the group agrees on a new location (whole books have been written about this complicated process) the mass of bees will move together to the new location.

      So what you saw was a swarm that was resting in one place while the scouts were out searching. Once a decision was made, they all left to go to the new place. This is completely normal. The other swarm you saw was just traveling by. They could have been looking for a temporary place to settle, or more likely, they were moving to their newly selected location.

      Let me know is you have more questions.

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