“My bees are gone now. Will they return in spring?”
This question makes me sad because I know someone wants a hopeful answer.
But no, honey bees do not leave in the fall and return in the spring. If an entire colony is gone from its hive, that colony is not coming back. The colony may have absconded, or it may have died for some reason. I can’t say much more without knowing the details.
Absconding bees leave their hive forever
Absconding means the colony abandoned its hive and selected another location to live, usually because their living conditions were bad. It’s hard to say why a colony absconds, but it may have no food, it may be repeatedly attacked by predators, it may be subject to excess noise, or it may be assaulted with chemical pesticides.
Absconding takes different forms. Sometimes the entire colony leaves at once. More often, the bees leave one by one. Individual bees may try to move in with another colony, or some may simply leave to die in the field. Things must seem unbearable for them to leave because they have very little chance of survival.
A new colony may look like an old one returned in spring
Depending on where you live, it is remotely possible that an entirely different colony might move into your empty hive. To some people, this may look like their colony spent the winter somewhere else and is now returning.
In truth, hives that were occupied by honey bees in previous years become very attractive to swarms. Swarms detect the odor of bees, wax, comb, or propolis and decide it would make a good place to live. This is why bait hives work to attract bees in spring.
But having a swarm move into your empty hive is not something you should count on. If you want to continue keeping bees after your colony has left, you should plan to acquire a new colony.
Try to learn why your bees left in winter
In addition, you should try to figure out why your colony disappeared in the first place. Review the hive location and your management skills. Did you do something wrong or questionable? Did you fail to treat for mites in a timely way? Do you check on their winter food supply?
If you don’t change your technique, you are bound to make a similar error. So review and rethink your strategy before you try it again.
Honey Bee Suite