Honeybee Swarms



If you have bees in a bird box, at the bottom of a hedgerow, under your shed or in compost heap the chances are that it's bumblebees you have. It is not a swarm of bees. Assuming they are causing you no bother, please allow them to go about their business and enjoy watching them. For more information go to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website. http://bumblebeeconservation.org/. You never know, you might have a rare species! If you have bees in a birdbox or roof, it's probably the tree bumblebee or Bombus Hypnorum to give it's Latin name. Here's an article about them. Bumblebee nests will grow steadily over the spring and summer and will disperse in late summer; won't take over your home/shed/bird box forever and don't do any damage. We do not remove bumblebee nests. They are unlikely to cause a problem so please leave them where they are. Other bees (mining bees) live under paths - often in groups of individual nests - and Mason Bees in the walls of houses - particularly soft brick. Please leave them be.


Nearly all the calls we receive concerning swarms are for bumble bees and not honey bees - even when someone has read this page! Please ensure that is is a swarm of honeybees you have. Check here. first. We will not deal with other types of bees.

Further afield, if you think you have honeybees, you may like to contact Norfolk Beekeepers or Waveney Beekeepers - check the links page.

What is a swarm?

Swarming is a big event in the life of a honeybee hive as the colony essentially splits into two. Consider a colony as a super-organism rather than a bunch of individuals. Swarming is the bees way of colonising new areas and it is a natural part of reproduction. The bee keeper may have an indication that a hive is about to swarm and in most cases can stop it happening. However if they do swarm they are usually even less likely to sting than usual so don't worry unduly. Swarming usually occurs in the summer months; May, June and July. Occasionally it will be earlier or later in the year.

Small swarm in Gorleston
An easy catch!

The day of the swarm.

The weather will be good and the swarm often occurs late morning. Bees do 'buzzing runs' in the hive to alert their sisters that they are ready to go. The queen will already be slimmed down and is therefore better able to fly and there will be queencells waiting to release a new queen a few days after the swarm departs. The bees leave the hive in their thousands and the sky will be thick with them – so much so that they may stop the traffic. However they will soon alight on a suitable landing place and cluster together. The landing place may be a tree, hedge or table for example; Often it is just a few feet off the ground. Somewhere in the middle of this cluster of bees is the queen. It is she that all the bees have clustered around. If she is not there, the bees will return to their home. Scout bees will fly off to search for the best possible site where they can make a home. Amazingly they can measure the volume of a suitable dwelling-place so they get the right size. Sometimes colonies will fly off and then 'bivouac' somewhere for a while whilst the decide where to live. If the swarm is not caught – and it may stay for a few days, it will fly off – usually between several hundred metres and a couple of km away, to make a new home once the scout bees have reached a consensus of where they are going to move to, which involves dancing on the surface of the swarm - you might see them in action. It is unlikely that a swarm will survive nowadays in the wild which is why they need our help as we can capture them and house them and if they finish up inside a chimney, they may have to be destroyed.

Collecting a swarm in Belton NR31
Collecting a swarm

Swarm collection can be relatively straightforward provided the beekeeper can get access to the swarm safely. Bees will either walk up into a container placed above them or can be knocked into a box or skep. You will be able to watch if at a safe distance or indoors behind a window. You may even be able to come close as they are not interested in you, however you should follow the instructions of the beekeeper. The beekeeper can then take them away to be hived if it is not done on site. Any bees that are not caught will usually fly back to their original colony however it's good practice to leave the boxed swarm on site 'till dusk when all the bees have gathered with their queen, then they can all be removed in one go. If the beekeeper fails to collect the queen, any bees that are flying will again collect on a branch around the queen as it's is her scent that attracts them, and it is her scent (pheromones) that controls much of the activity in the hive. Sometimes a few bees cluster around where the queen had alighted because her scent is still there as it will last for a few hours potentially. Once the scent goes, so too will the bees.

Hiving a swarm by them walking up into the hive.
Hiving a swarm

Hiving a swarm. Here a decent sized swarm were shaken out in front of a hive one evening from a swarm collection box. Bees will naturally walk upwards so they steadily made their way into the hive - in this case an 8 frame poly box (for the beekeepers amongst you, it's a modified Paynes poly) which was a tight fit. They were put in a full-sized hive a couple of days later and the queen was laying by then.

Hopton Swarm Suffolk
Not so easy to collect!

Colonies don't always do as we wish. This one arrived one afternoon and the house owner got hold of us quite quickly. Before the bees got settled in the chimney, we smoked them heavily from the fireplace and the bees moved out of the chimney to the outside. And there they stayed for some time. The house owner was worried that they would go back into the chimney. However they were collected with the use of a long ladder.