The above photo is from September last year, but a similar scene was a daily occurrence at the four feeders I’d left out for the bees this Fall . . . until Friday.
. . . wait . . . I should back up a bit and explain from the beginning. Some might get bored, but that can’t be helped. If interested, keep reading.
Bees begin visiting the hummingbird feeders in late August, and, by the middle of September, they practically swarm at the feeders.
Part of the problem is that feeders like the one pictured above have feeding openings large enough for bees to push their heads through and reach the nectar (sugar water). The other part is that by September, few flowers remain in bloom, whether cultivated or wild, and bees are still fairly active, especially with the weather staying on the warm side later and later in the year.
In the past three years, I’ve tried several remedies based on suggestions by others with the same issue, but there’s little that will dissuade bees from giving the hummingbird feeders a go, and this keeps migrating hummers from accessing the feeders.
So, I decided to put out four feeders catering strictly to bees. Meaning, the feeders are in a sunny spot (bees prefer full sun) and have nectar with a higher concentration of sugar, close to the 50/50 mix they prefer.
This means they mostly don’t bother with the feeders dedicated to late-season hummingbirds since that nectar is only a 25% solution.
My rule for hummingbird feeding during the Fall migration is to leave the feeders out for at least ten days after the last hummingbird sighting. This next photo from September 24th was taken just a day before I was ready to take down the feeders.
Ten days later, I was again ready to take the feeders down when I thought I saw a hummer . . . and sure enough, a confirmed sighting on October 12th.
I didn’t see any more hummingbirds, and in late October, I pulled all but one hummingbird feeder, leaving the one out because temperatures were unseasonably warm. And, of course, I had the four feeders for the bees.
I figured the bees could use a boost before the cold weather rolled down from the North.
And that’s how things stood until this past Friday, November 11th.
For the record, the bees sucked down about three quarts of sugar water in the past month . . . but all that ended on Friday, when the temperatures took a plunge from the mid-70s we’d been enjoying, sliding into the 40s.
Mid-morning on Friday, it was still in the 50s, and bees were making a last-minute raid on the feeders. Just a few hours later, the North wind picked up, and temperatures dropped. I waited until 4pm and then went out to get the feeders.
But, there was a problem . . . a bee was on one of the feeders. Not good because the strong wind would make it difficult for her to fly even if she had the energy (she didn’t). Plus, the temperature was nearing 40° F (4.4° C), below which she would quickly die.
I went inside and grabbed a bit of honey, hoping she could get a quick energy boost and make it back to the hive, but she was in bad shape. I gently laid her in a sheltered place with more honey near her and went inside. I hoped she would recover a bit and leave, but when I got inside and checked the temperature, it was in the high 30s and dropping.
I felt responsible, you see. I should have taken the feeders down on Thursday, the day before the weather changed.
I’d found lethargic or seemingly dead bees before on the feeders, but usually in the morning and never as cold as it was on Friday. Bees occasionally wait too long to get back to the hive and hunker in place. If temperatures don’t drop too much overnight, in the morning, they typically recover and go on their way.
Often, in such cases, my standard procedure had been to put a small amount of honey near them for a quick energy boost, and as soon as the sun hit them, they’d take off, presumably heading back to the hive.
But not this past Friday . . . it was evening, temperatures were dropping into the 20s overnight, with the high not hitting 40s again until Monday. This bee was going to die.
Did I mention I felt responsible? Well, I brought her in. I put her into a container with some honey and water, and then hit the Internet, hoping to find directions for taking care of a moribund bee.
I learned a few things, I did. All things I’d done wrong in the past.
For instance, don’t give the bee honey; give it sugar water (50/50 solution). Don’t give it too much because the bee could flop in it and cause issues with the sugar solution drying on her or her wings.
That’s what happened to my bee as it began to revive in the container I had provided. She flopped on her back and landed on the now-mixed honey and water, and I had to help her (offered a toothpick for it to grab onto, and I lifted her out, depositing her away from the solution).
Reading the comments, I read that if that happens, I should give the bee a bit of a dousing (a few drops of water) to facilitate her cleaning herself (she didn’t look happy, I tell you what, but it was for her own good).
Regarding housing the bee, I don’t keep shoeboxes around, and regular boxes seemed impractical to work with. So, enter a Corelle ware baking deep dish with a glass lid (so I could keep an eye on the bee’s progress).
As suggested, I added a bit of greenery to make the enclosure interesting. I chose part of a shrub I have outside. That particular shrub retains water drops as if they were glued on . . .
. . . which came in handy for depositing a few drops of sugar water.
I also added a paper towel on the bottom so that even if the drops ran off, they wouldn’t sit in a puddle for the bee to wander in. So, here’s what the setup looks like (minus the bee).
. . . and a close-up of the sugar water drops on the leaves.
By Friday evening, the bee was moving around, cleaning itself, and generally looking and acting like a healthy bee.
That was the case for most of Saturday morning . . . and then, things took a turn for the worse.
. . . the bee kept flopping over on its side and then on its back, curling up as if it was dying. I put a toothpick next to its legs a few times, and it would grab a hold of it, and I then would gently move it onto a leaf and upright, but it kept trying to climb and fall over on its side or back. It was kind of hard to watch.
I thought perhaps it wasn’t finding the sugar water, so I moved it next to a drop of sugar water (I did that a few times), but it didn’t seem interested in drinking any.
I then took an eyedropper and just held a drop of sugar water in front of its face. I wasn’t sure if it was drinking, and it still kept flopping over on its back. So, I decided just to let it be . . . Actually, I considered putting it outside to help it drift away, but instead, I just walked away to do more reading.
. . . and ten minutes later, it was crawling all over and taking short flights. Perhaps it did drink from the drop I held next to its face.
Right after that episode, I did two things . . . I named it (Ms. Busy), and I contacted the lady that runs the website linked above.
She confirmed it was a honey bee — a female worker. Until I snapped the photos, I wasn’t sure because the body looked darker than I expected, and I thought it might be a solitary bee.
Based on the weather forecast and discussion of the likelihood of survival, the plan was to wait until Monday (yesterday), when the temperature would rise to the mid-to-high 40s. Still a bit on the cool side, but the warmest than it would be for at least the next seven days.
The plan for Monday was to make sure the bee was nice and warm and fueled up. The thing is, other than providing food, I didn’t know how I could ensure Ms. Busy would be fueled up. It’s not like I could force-feed her.
As for warming her up, I considered the microwave, but there’s no setting for warming up bees. The plan, then, was to set the container over a register. The alternative was to have the container in the laundry room because it gets a fair amount of sun.
Then, around peak temperature and when the sun hits the target area (between 2pm and 3pm), set the container outside in the sun near where I found her, wait a bit to see how she’s doing, and then open the lid.
The hope was that she would take a few test flights and then head home.
Our temperatures tend to be a few degrees warmer than forecast, but the concern was the wind (up to 8mph). At least it wasn’t forecast to be from the North.
It would be risky, depending on how close her hive is, but it’s the best chance she would have to get back home because the next window of opportunity would not be until the following Tuesday, if even then.
Honestly, I could have kept her as long as needed, but bees are social, and they don’t do well separated from the hive. Spending that many nights away would be fairly stressful for a bee.
Come Monday, the plan was set in motion . . . I put the container in the laundry room where the sun would hit it and monitored the temperature using a small thermometer that’s normally on my keychain (the glass lid would ensure it would heat up fairly quickly).
I was shooting for around 95° F (35° C), which is the temperature bees maintain in the hive. At around 90° F, it stopped constantly pacing and began cleaning itself.
At around 95° F, I took the container outside, once again placing it in the sun. I then monitored both the temperature and Ms. Busy. Within a few minutes, Ms. Busy started flying inside the container, so I removed the lid . . . and it made a beeline for what I hope was her home.
The sun was bright, the wind was only a few miles an hour, and I like to think that despite the cooler temperature, Ms. Busy made it home. I won’t assume anything, but, having done all I could, I also won’t worry about it.
Godspeed, Ms. Busy; it was an interesting experience, and I can now add beekeeping to my resume.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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