• Are Chickadee Nests the Key to an Effective Bumble Bee Nest Box?

    A PVC chickadee nest box.

    A PVC chickadee nest box.

    Are Chickadees the key to the creation of an effective Bumble Bee Nest Box? Likely, and you can help us figure this out.

    Desiree Narango, a graduate student studying chickadees in urban Washington, D.C., has found that bumble bees (likely Bombus bimaculatus) will nest in the used or abandoned moss nests of Carolina Chickadees. Approximately 1/4 of the these nests had a bumble bee nest and there is indirect evidence that the queen may actually chase chickadees out of nests during laying.  The actual use rate could be higher as nests boxes were not regularly checked after determining that the nest was abandoned by the birds.

    Given that no effective bumble bee nest box exists in North America this is a call to action to flesh out the possibilities of this technique.

    Yesterday, Sam Droege, a native bee specialist at USGS in Maryland, and his interns gathered moss and found enough old 4″ plastic pipe to make 20 nests.  Today they will assemble them, load them with moss and put them outside. You should too! These experiments can help us learn more about this possibly awesome way to keep bumble bees.

    You can learn how to build these PVC pipe nests from Narango’s directions posted on her web site. You don’t have to pre-load the nest box with wood chips as you would for a chickadee, but just load them with moss for the bees. Place them outside and monitor them. Send us your location for the nest pipes and the results (did bees nest or not?) and we’ll pass all the results to Sam Droege.

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    Comments (6)

    1. Claudia BLISS says:

      Hello, I have just read this article about the connection between birds and bumblebees. I read this after researching about bumblebees after I found a nest in a bird nesting box that had an old tufted titmouse mossy nest that I was trying to take out to clean the box. I discovered the bumblebee nest was in place after I saw two bees and got stung after canning my cleaning idea! I am a fan of bees [not carpenter] and would like to have them do another nest next year but this wasn’t the first time we found a bee nest. Several years ago we’d found a bumblebee nest in an old chickadee nest—-and there is that moss thing again that the bees find irresistible. What is written here is definitely my experience with two nesting boxes and chickadee/titmouse old nests. It’s very exciting to realize we can help bees this way! Thank you for this article, happy to read it! Good luck spreading the word the bee population needs it!

      • Cyndi Conrod says:

        I was in the garden yesterday and gently put back a giant moss mound as I had lifted and discovered a slow moving bee. I obviously woke her up and she eventually wiggled out to check out the new Spring day.

    2. David Mickelson says:

      Yesterday chickadees hatched in a box in my yard, Rochester, MN. Today all the chicks were dead in the box, adults gone, and a large bumble bee deep in the moss, right in the nest cup. I noticed the bee go into the box yesterday, but thought the adult chickadees would kill it or drive it off. This morning I saw the chickadees going in and out, and also saw the bee. This afternoon it was all over, the bee had won the box.

    3. Abigail says:

      I never cleaned out last year’s chickadee nest bc I was aiming to learn if they preferred to use the previous nest or build a new one, but instead it’s already been taken over by bumblebees. A friend said her chickadees will use last years nest, but in times past I’ve cleaned the box between seasons and I’ve never had more than one brood in a season unlike her- she’s had two broods in a summer. I’m quite sure it’s the bumble bees that deterred the chickadees from returning, as I saw the chickadees inspecting the box many times, only to go else where. Since then the bumblebee activity has increased. Early on was certain there was a nesting pair of chickadees in the box but then I saw a bumblebee enter too. Could they share? Would a bumblebee sting spell the end of a chickadee? Bummer I haven’t seen chickadees in a few days, quite sure it’s just the bees now.

    4. Brent Veak says:

      I put up a nest box this spring and was thrilled to start seeing active use by a couple of chickadees. Then one day I noticed a bee fly in. Lately it’s all bees and no chickadees. I just looked in the box today and can see the chickadees added nesting material on top of what I provided. Couldn’t see any bees, but when I tapped on the box a bee appeared out of the nesting material. I’m all for bees, but bummed they essentially evicted the birds. That’s nature doing it’s thing.

      • SOrry about the bees, but they are cool too! I am guessing you have bumblebees, right? We’d love to have you add that nest sighting to our Vermont Atlas of Life project on iNaturalist (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/vermont-atlas-of-life) with a photo of one of the bees so we can identify it. I am guessing it is likely Common Eastern Bumblebee as they like boxes sometimes like that. There is often fierce competition for nest holes between birds, insects, mammals, and more. You can always add more! Enjoy the show.

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