how to wild bees and native bees

How to move a bumble bee nest

The first question to ask yourself is this: Must you actually move the bumble bee nest? Is such a drastic measure really necessary?

Consider:

  • Bumble bees in many parts of the world, including species endemic to the United States and Great Britain, are threatened with extinction. Some species are already gone.
  • A bumble nest lasts only one season. Some species are done nesting by the end of July; some persist until the first freeze. After that, only newly mated queens survive the winter, and they do that by digging a small hole in the ground and hibernating alone until spring.
  • Bumble bees are not aggressive and tend to sting only if their home is threatened. Most people most of the time can peacefully co-exist with bumble bees.
  • Bumble bees are excellent long-tongued pollinators and key players in a healthy environment.
  • Unless there is some compelling reason to move it, please leave it alone. After it dies off at the end of the season, you can clean up the area so that another queen doesn’t choose the same location the following year. Sometimes the entrance can be re-routed which solves the immediate problem without moving the nest.

That said, some situations require us to move a nest. Nests are usually in the ground but may be found in places such as bird houses, mail boxes, compost heaps, trash barrels, and outdoor upholstery. Although different situations require different handling, some basic guidelines apply to all.

The Basics of Moving a Bumble Bee Nest

  • Before you try to move a nest, study it closely so you know exactly where it is and what has to be done.
  • Know exactly where you will put the nest after you take it from its present location.
  • If the nest is underground or in an immovable object, you will need to make or purchase a nesting box in advance.
  • Assemble all the tools and equipment you will need beforehand. You want to interfere as little as possible and complete the job quickly. You don’t want to start looking for a screwdriver when the job is half complete.
  • Wear protective clothing, especially gloves and a long-sleeved shirt.
  • Only attempt the move at night when all the bees are home. Bumbles will not fly in the dark, so night is the best time to work.
  • Use a flashlight with a red beam. You can cover a flashlight with red plastic or use a red bicycle lamp. Like most bees, bumbles don’t see the color red. By using red light, you prevent the bees from flying toward your beam.
  • The job goes easier with two people, one to hold the light and the other to move the bees. (If beekeepers are involved, it may take more because of all the opinions to consider.)

What Will I Find in There?

In the spring, a queen bumble selects a location for her nest. She often picks a place that is pre-furnished with nesting materials such as an abandoned rodent burrow, an empty bird nest, or maybe even some cotton batting. On top of this soft mat she builds a wax cell where she will lay her first eggs and, nearby, she fashions a small waxen pot where she will store nectar.

As time goes by, the queen will build more brood cells and more nectar pots. After the first batch of workers is hatched, they begin to take over the job of building cells, caring for the young, and foraging for food. The nest increases in size as the workers expand the nursery with even more cells and nectar pots.

The size of the nest you find will depend on how far along in the process the colony has come. In temperate climates, bumble bee colonies usually contain less than 100 workers. When moving the nest, care must be taken not to crush or tear the delicate brood cells and not to spill the nectar pots.

Rerouting the Entrance

Sometimes the nest entrance can be rerouted by attaching a piece of hose or pipe to the opening and forcing the bees to fly through it. For example, if the bees are exiting their home between the steps of your porch, you may be able to run the pipe to the side of the house instead. Sometimes this can make all the difference.

  1. The hose, pipe, or conduit should be at least 2 cm in diameter.
  2. Measure in advance, to make sure you have enough length.
  3. After dark, approach the nest and install the tube. Depending on how their entrance is built, you may have to improvise a way to make the connection between tube and hole. Mud can be used to “glue” it in place.
  4. Look for other entrances and stop them up as well. The bees must have no choice but to leave through the tube.
  5. Secure the far end of the tube so it doesn’t wiggle around. Orient the opening so it sheds—rather than collects—water.
  6. Check on the bees the next day to be sure they are coming and going. If no bees appear, check your connections the next evening.

Moving a Colony in a Birdhouse

  1. After dark, stop up the entrance hole. Also plug any extraneous cracks or loose joints that the bumbles could get through.
  2. Take down the birdhouse, being careful to keep it upright.
  3. Move the birdhouse to its new location and install it.
  4. Leave the birdhouse closed up overnight. The next day you can remove the plug and the bees will reorient themselves.

Moving Bees that are Underground, in Compost or Trash, or in Immovable Objects

This is the hardest situation and also the most common.

  1. Prepare the nest box by adding cotton batting, moss, or grass clippings to the inside, and plugging the entrance hole from the outside.
  2. After dark, carefully excavate the original nest by gently removing the surface layers of soil or compost. Move a little at a time until you uncover the wax structures.
  3. Slide a shovel or spade underneath the nest in such a way as to lift the entire thing with one scoop.
  4. Gently place the nest in the box, being careful to keep it upright.
  5. Cover the nest box with the lid and move it gently to its new location.
  6. Leave the entrance hole sealed overnight.
  7. The next day, unplug the entrance hole and watch the bees orient themselves to their new home.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Bird houses in a tree containing bumble bee nests

Each bird house was home to a bumble bee colony, and each was collected from a community resident who called on the center to "come and take them away.

72 Comments

  • I love bumble bees and have been pleased to see a number of them this spring and summer. I have no idea where their nests are. They just show up each day, enjoying the bee-friendly plants I planted for them, the hummers, and the flutter-bys. I shall have to spend some time watching their traffic patterns to locate their homes. We are renovating and adding onto our home this summer. I would hate to create homeless bumbles while making our home more comfortable for my family. Any suggestions for finding their homes??

    • D’Alta,

      It’s called bee lining and involves triangulation. It’s the way beekeepers used to find colonies of honey bees in the wild.

    • Hi.

      I have removed a delapidated garden shed and exposed a bumble bee nest on the ground. I have made a shelter for it but need to move it now. If I lift it and re-site it does it need to be in a container or can I just cover it from the rain

  • Brilliant, sensible and informative as usual. The “…. (If beekeepers are involved, it may take more because of all the opinions to consider.)..” observation is spot on!!! 🙂

  • No live bees in my birdhouse. I took down to clean and I don’t mind if the bees stay there. Should I remove the old nest or do they keep using it? Also, will they attack a bird for trying to use the house? Thanks.

    • Kate,

      1. They like the used nests. I save old bird nests to line my bumble bee houses.

      2. No, more likely the bird attacks them. Many birds eat bees.

  • Hi, I picked up a blanket on my outdoor sofa and unknowingly disturbed a bee nest. I don’t want t bother them any more nor for any of them to die, but I worry some are trapped in the blanket… what should I do?

  • I have a bee’s nest under the floor at the very back of a hut that I am about every to demolish and erect a new one on. The floor is rotten and when clearing it out, three big bees popped out of the hole. I have read your advice but won’t be able to demolish in the dark. Any ideas please?

    • Talula,

      Do you know they are bumble bees? It could be any of various types of bee or wasp. I think I would just go ahead and do what you have to do.

  • I have a bees nest that is growing from the top of my compost to the ground. It doesn’t touch the ground yet but would like to move the combs along with bees into a box. How do i move the entire thing?

    • Amanda,

      If you mean put them in a regular brood box, you have to cut off each comb separately and tie it securely into a frame. You may have to trim the combs to get them to fit properly.

  • I live in the arctic. Our houses are above ground and honey bees have started a nest this spring in the underside of my house. I can access the nest by removing a sheet of plywood but do not know what to do or how to move the nest not kill them.

  • I’m in Scotland and it’s mid-July. I have bumbles nesting in my wall cavity and they use an air brick for access. I’m going to be getting significant building work done to the area in a few weeks – how can I tell when the nest is no longer in use? And do all the bumbles leave at the end of the season? I’d hate to have the nest damaged! Many thanks.

    • Julie,

      When you no longer see coming and going, the colony has probably died. Only the queen bees survive the winter, and they will nest somewhere else, a place just big enough for one bee. Normally nests are not used a second year unless a queen just happens to discover it the following year. So once the bees have died off for the year, you can tear out the nest with no problems.

  • Hello. I am having a house extension in 2 weeks but have a bumble bee nest in the patio which will be totally destroyed when building works start. The bees live under my patio (I previously use to feed a little mouse there) and its in a sunny location, so the nest has been thriving and I see large bees leaving and entering lately now as well as smaller ones. I am going to create a new “nest” further down the garden to try to let them move a week before the building work and well built and if the tunnels are long it may take a while to find the nest. My main concern is if we (my partner and I) have to move them, we would be in danger if stung more than a few times? I have been stung before by wasps and have not been that bothered. However, my partner who is a builder has volunteered to break up the patio but he has never been stung before but could probably break up the patio very quickly. Please could you therefore confirm the size of the largest bumble bee colonies? Following your advice, if my partner could just remove the patio tiles to expose their nest in the night, would the bees, if given a week, move to the nest I create or move to somewhere else? It is now July 12th and they are still very active. The builders are due July 31st. I live in the UK.

    • Sally,

      Bumble bee nests can range from a few dozen bees up to about 500 individuals. The very large bees you see are most probably queens that will soon leave the nest and find a place to overwinter. The rest of the colony will die out at the end of the summer.

      It is hard to get the bees to move, although you can try digging up the nest and moving it. At any rate, they won’t overwinter in that location. Each mated queen will find a little hole somewhere to overwinter by herself. Then in spring, the survivors will each start a new colony.

      In my opinion, bumble stings are nasty, and more painful than honey bees. On the other hand they are not quick to sting. But once you start digging at or near their home, they will get riled up for sure. I recommend a face veil and full body covering, including hands and ankles.

      Perhaps you’ve heard the rumor that bees don’t sting at night? Well, it’s a rumor. Their stingers work just fine any old time. I would work with them in the daylight so at least you can see what you’re doing and where they are.

  • Regarding your response to julie. The bees in my compost will they die and not come back or do you think the queen will stay? I’d like her to stay. How do honey bee farms work? Same way? Bees die queen leaves and you hope another queen finds the box?

    • Amanda,

      Honey bees and bumble bees have different life cycles. A bumble bee queen selects a nest in spring, raises a family, and the whole colony dies in the fall except for new queens. The new queens go out a find a place to hibernate by themselves. Then, in spring, the queens look for places to start a new colony.

      Honey bees do not hibernate. Instead the entire colony is active all winter long. They stay inside when it’s cold and fly around when it’s warmer, but the colony can live many years. When a new queen replaces the old one, they may continue to live in the same place. Sometimes part of the colony leaves to start a new colony, but the old colony continues on.

      • Hopefully, I have honey bees. What’s the difference in their hives? And from what I’ve been reading, the colony for honey bees is way larger then bumble bees.

        • Amanda,

          That’s true. Honey bees nearly always nest above ground in trees or hanging from the the eaves of houses, and they may have 50,000 members. Bumble bees usually nest underground and have several hundred members. Other things, like yellowjackets, also nest underground.

  • Hi I have recently discovered bumblebees nesting in the ground right by my cabin. They are not a danger to me except they must’ve recently moved there because I mowed and weed whack the area previously regularly and didn’t get attacked. their appear to be a lot of bees in the ground -there is a steady stream leaving and coming back to the nest all day long what can I do so that they don’t return to that area next spring? I’d rather not hurt them, but I really don’t like getting stung.

    • Tara,

      A bumble bee colony won’t use the same nest for a second year. However, a different queen could find it and move in during the spring. So once the bees die off for this year (the first hard freeze will destroy what’s left of the colony) you can safely go in and fill the hole. No live bees will be there, so you won’t be hurting them, but at the same time you will discourage a new queen from using that space next year.

  • So i have another question. If i add the bee box with just frames to my compost bin where my honey bees live do you think they’ll start building in that also?

  • Thank you for your advice on bumblebees! We found a nest in the wall/ floor of our garden shed and my husband was going to kill them until we read your info about their life cycle. He has now agreed to leave them alone and clean the nest out when the season is over…(unless they sting him first, he says with a steely glint in his eye…)

    • Jannette,

      Good for you! Some bumble bees are having trouble these days, so I love to hear about people looking out for them.

  • I know that bees are having some trouble…I had a honey bee nest in my blackberry bushes several years ago, it was approximately 2’x2’x2′, not sure if that’s big or not, but anyway, within a few months, it was gone, and I was sad. I don’t know if they died or just moved, but regardless, I try to save ALL bees when I can ?

    Thanks again for your wonderful web site!

  • I think I moved a bumble bee nest by accident today. I had observed a Bombus melanopygus ducking into a old strawberry planter I had tucked under a bench in the corner of my porch on more than one occasion. All the strawberries are dead and did not survive the winter. I couldn’t figure out why she’s keep coming back there until I had cleaned the porch and moved the planter. I saw her come back and spend a good ten minutes looking about that corner of my porch seemingly for the planter, then it struck me that she might have nested there.

    Have I inadvertently destroyed a nest? I moved the planter out into my yard, will she find it again? I feel awful. I do love the bumble bees who visit my garden, but I’m not sure if I can host a whole nest with my kids about as well.

  • We recently had some land cleared and exposed 2 bumble bee nests. 1 in a discarded tire and the other in a rotten stump. Last night I moved the 2 nests to a second of the property where kids can’t throw rocks or balls at them or kick their tire.

    Today both sites were active and the bees are quite agitated. I’m concerned I missed sections of both nests or they are lost. What should I do?

    • Bees learn where their home is by memorizing landmarks. If you move the nest, the bees will just return to the original site. Newly emerging bees, who have never flown before, will learn the new site. Moving bee nests is not easy and many are bound to die from it.

  • Hi
    We are having an extension – where the cavity has been open in the new garage the bumble bees have nested inside the cavity in the insulation. We have just got to the point that the door linings are now being put in which will completely block all access in or out for the bees. They are quite a way in – about 12 inches so I am not really sure… its now the 5th July – how long are they likely to live for or how and where do you recommend I move them to?
    Many thanks

  • I’ve just discovered a bumblebee starting to nest in a house plant, I have put the plant outside but I don’t really want them nesting in my garden as I have small children. Any suggestions as to what I can do as I don’t want to see the bumblebee come to any harm.

    • Rachel,

      At this time of year it wouldn’t be starting a nest. It was probably just digging in for winter hibernation. In the spring, it will fly off and nest somewhere else.

  • Is there a good deterrent to drive them away/get them to move to a different location without waiting for a entire season? They are currently under my deck and that’s the only way for us to get to the backyard. The yard is an active play area for my dog. The bees are attacking every time we come out of the house. I poisoned them with honey and boric powder last year, that killed many bees but not all! Once the bees see other dead bees, they stop taking the honey mixture. Can’t get to the nest, because the deck is covered with a decorative fence. Can they drill or bite holes through a nylon net? If they can’t, I can entomb them by sealing the area with a net!

    • Sham,

      You say the bees attack every time you come out of the house. That doesn’t sound much like bees. Are you sure they are not social wasps of some type?

  • They are not wasps. They are bumble bees! Every time we come down the stairs, they attack! Not just inspect us, and fly away, they become agitated and the drones try to chase you away, when that fails, they go fetch the stinging bees! The stinging bees are the size of small bird eggs.

  • I have a playhouse in my backyard and moved a bird’s nest box from the playhouse to another location this morning. Now there are numerous bees flying in the area of where the bird box was. I did not know that there were bees in there.

    What can I do to get them to move as this is an area where kids and dogs play?

    Thanks.

    • Judy,

      Just wait. In a few days they will stop looking in the old location.

      It’s funny. I put up bird houses all over my yard to attract bumble bees and I have no takers. People who don’t want them, get them.

  • Hi I live in Wales and have a bumblebee colony living in an old tree stump at the end of the garden. I need to build a terrace wall approximately 10ft away from the entrance, and digging a footing is due to begin on Saturday. Will this disturb the bees?

    • Lowri,

      I believe it can be done, as long as people are careful not to disturb them any more than necessary.

  • If you have any information about how close is too close to move bumble bees I would love to know, as I am moving some tonight laughing. I’ll keep looking on the internet but eventually would love to know if two blocks is to close that’s supposed to a mile, that sort of thing. Thanks! I’ve always loved your blog. This is Brian from Urban bees and gardens in Portland, Oregon.

  • We live in Massachusetts and a bumblebee nest started in the grass bag attached to our lawnmower. We’ve been able to remove the attachment they’re resting on but now they are exposed on our patio. Where can we move them to and keep them safe? We’re thinking of trying to slide them into a shoebox? Would appreciate any guidance.

  • A red tailed bumblebee colony has taken up residence in my hedgehog house (made from old kitchen wall unit, so quite large )I need to move it to another part of the garden due to a garden refurb. The bees are more than welcome to stay in the hedgehog house so I will not be disturbing the nest. Do I still wait until it is dark to do the move?

    • Denise,

      During the day, the worker bees are out foraging. If they return home but the nest is gone, many will not be able to find the new location and will simply die. If you move the nest at night when the bees are home, they have a better change of “realizing” the nest is in a different place before they leave in the morning, and will attempt to learn the new location. Some still may not get it, but more will be saved than otherwise.

  • Thanks, am all set to move hedgehog house complete with bees tonight, once sun goes down and cannot see any bees busying about. Not moving it far, about 10 metres….but out of way of garden renovations. Trusty garden trolley will be put to good use….too bulky to carry.

  • Move went fine, have realised though hedgehog house is badly rotted, once bees have gone will have to be replaced. Waited until dusk and checked no movement in and out, blocked entrance way and then moved it.

    Was raining hard here this morning, so not many bees about. Suns out now, most seem to be flying in and out ok, one or two stragglers still at old site.

    Is it worth putting a bowl of sugar water near?

    • Denise,

      I’m glad to hear the move went well. The sugar water most likely would make no difference.

  • Hi we have taken an old shed down and found a bumble bee nest on the underside of the floor my husband has turned the floor over so the bees nest is now on top. What should we do now please?

  • I pulled a tree from my lawn. In the roots system is a bumble bee nest. I can see the pollen funnels but that’s the only part left except a couple hundred bumble bees. I know they’re important. Is it possible to save them?

  • I have a nest of bumblebees in the eaves of the back corner of my house. I know this because while doing some repair work I was stung 6 times on both arms stomach and leg. They swarmed down my overalls and got me good.. One even flew out when I went inside to change. I have to repair the house but wish not to be stung again. Any ideas?

    • David,

      Depends on where you live. In temperate areas, bumble bees are almost done nesting for the year, so the nest should soon empty out on its own.

  • I have bumble bees in a birdhouse that is hanging from the corner of the house–a bad location that gets traffic going to and from the garbage and recycling bins. I am also very allergic to bees and wasps and it takes only 3 minutes after being stung before I am in danger of fainting for lack of air. I have my Epi-Pen but I cannot wait until the fall for them to pass on and need to have the nest moved. I would just like to relocate the birdhouse they have occupied, but I do not dare try this myself.

    Can someone point me to a resource in or near Portland, Oregon which would just move the birdhouse to a shepherd’s hook I have about 50 yards away? I don’t want to exterminate them, but at the same time, a visit to a hospital and a very panicked husband is also undesirable.

    We are of limited income so the expense is an issue. I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  • I live in Illinois and just discovered a queen bee building a nest out of the fur in a box that I put out in the winter for stray cats and such to keep warm. I need to move the nest. Currently it’s just a ball of fur and last time I checked she’s not there so maybe I scared her off? I’d just like to move her to the side of my house where there is mulch and her nest will be safe. Should I move it before she’s finished? With her in it? Just remove it now before she builds any further? I’d love to watch her work but don’t want her harmed.

  • Have just moved my bird box – at night and into a new location, surrounded by honeysuckle! Forgot to leave the tape on the hole overnight. Should this be a problem?

  • So, painting the house today, found there’s a lot of bumble bees under the trim. Want to move them without harming them, ideas? Can I build them a nesting box and leave it nearby or do I have to wait till winter?

    • Jon,

      Well, a happy band of bumble bees isn’t going to suddenly decide to move into an empty box. Just wait until their season is over (late summer/early fall) and the colony dies, then clean up the nest and block the entry.

  • I have bumble bees nesting in the box section of the front loader of my old Massey Ferguson tractor (MF35). I need to use the tractor! How can I persuade the bees to move out. I don’t think the nest is accessible. I live in North Northumberland UK.

  • I have a friend located in Michigan who has a hive under his porch (he cannot see the entrance or the hive itself). Most recommended to smoke it or burn it but I jumped in to say to try to locate a local beekeeper who could come and help him out. If he isn’t able to find one, are there any good ideas in removing/relocating a hive when you can’t access it at all?

    I figured a beekeeper might be able to give suggestions, but if he can’t find one, I don’t want the hive to just be destroyed.

  • I live in AZ, so we don’t get winter. Do the bumble bees still die off every year? My neighbor has a nest that just arrived, under his shed. They are very active and they need to be moved. Any advice on how we do this? We live in an RV park and can’t have them here with all the people around them.

    • Pat,

      In some of the warmer areas, bumble bee colonies can persist from year to year. I don’t know about Arizona in particular, but I think it’s possible. With protective clothing, you can dig out the nest and try to move it to a new area, but success isn’t likely.

  • Hi! I have a bumble bee nest under a shrub. I have been stung while trying to weed the surrounding flowers. I think my shrub is suffering from the location of the hive and there is a bare spot now where flowers once were. I didn’t want to relocate because I know how important they are. How can I insure they won’t use this hive again next year?

  • Wish me luck! I disturbed a nest while pulling out bushes in preparation for a construction project. I love having the bumble bees in my yard so I am going to attempt relocating their nest. Thank you for the helpful info.

  • I asked here about killing bumble bees that were nesting under my deck and making it impossible to come out during the day or go into my back yard. I tried the fake hornet nest etc, nothing worked. They sting like hell and they are pretty aggressive. After getting unhelpful answers, I put up a bird feeder to attract bluebirds, common grackles, etc. I have not been attacked by the damn bees again, the bees became food. Put a bird feeder near the nest, or in the path of the damn bees! They’ll be gone in a flash!!

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