Nesting 2014-style

Like many people, we have a nest box in our garden. (Thank you, Kevin!) Usually at this time of year, this is what we see there:

Blue tit in our nest box

Yes, every year a pair of blue tits nest in the box, and we take great pleasure watching them zoom in and out, in and out, in and out …

Blue tit in our nest box, 2010
Blue tit nesting in our nest box

However, this year we have something a little different zooming in and out, in and out, in and out. Can you spot what it is?

15-05-tree-bee-cr-5184-wHere’s a close-up to help:

14-05-tree-bee-cr-2-5184-wCan you see? It’s a bumblebee. A Tree bumblebee! And we currently have Tree bumblebees zooming in and out, in and out of our nest box, laden with pollen:

A Tree bumblebee laden with pollen going into our nestbox - now her nest!
A Tree bumblebee laden with pollen going into our nestbox – now her nest!

How exciting! Tree bumblebees only arrived in Britain in 2001 and were first recorded in my home town of York in 2009. (A Tree bumblebee by the name of ‘Madame Honfleur’ features in my Buzzing! book. You can hear me performing ‘Madame Honfleur’ on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour here.)

The very wonderful Bumblebee Conservation Trust says that Tree bumblebees sometimes nest in birds’ nest boxes, but I’d never seen this for myself. And now I have!

Here’s what they look like in action. Tip: Blink and you’ll miss them! (Other tip: don’t get your hopes up for great works of art when it comes to my wildlife videos!)

As I was watching the Tree bumblebees go in and out of the nest box the other day, I noticed that there were some other bees buzzing around nearby. I took a closer look and saw that there was a small circular hole in the mortar to the right of the nest box. Can you see it?

14-3.5.14--nest-box-and-hole-cr_Here’s what it looks like close up:

14-3.5.14-Mason-bee-hole-5202-wAnd here’s what was going in and out of that hole:

I think these are Red Mason Bees (Osmia rufa). The Red Mason Bee is so-called because, as my Collins Complete British Insects reliably informs me, ‘of its liking for the mortar of old walls. It rakes out the mortar and constructs its nest cells in the cavity before rendering it over again.’

And talking of rendering … when I went to look at the hole four days later, it had disappeared:

Red Mason Bee nest hole rendered over, 6 May 2014
Red Mason Bee nest hole rendered over, 6 May 2014

You would barely have known it was there!

Spot the Mason bee nest hole ...
Spot the Mason Bee nest hole …

Apparently Red Mason Bees are very common in gardens, so look out where you are and see if you have any nest holes. Tree bumblebees nesting in bird boxes are probably a little less common – but keep an eye out for them nevertheless. They are a beautiful sight!

If you want to know more about bumblebee nests (from how to attract bumblebees to nest, to what to do if you find a bumblebee nest) the Bumblebee Conservation Trust is the place to go!

Tree Bumblebee in our garden, May 2014
Tree bumblebee in our garden, May 2014

STOP PRESS: Find out what the Tree bumblebees did next here. (It’s amazing!)

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life


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