Swarm Information

It’s spring and Alberta honey bees are starting to emerge from their hives after a long cold winter…

Spring is a busy and important time for honey bees, as they have consumed most of their honey stores in the hive over the cold winter months, and have lots of work ahead of them including building brood, pollinating the many native plants, flowers and crops, and gathering nectar to make delicious, pure, Alberta honey.

When the weather warms, and the environment is beginning to grow back, there’s a window where bees become more active, break their winter cluster, and burn more calories in search of food. This can pose a challenge if plants and flowers are yet to bloom!

At this time, our beekeepers support the health and nutritional needs of their bees by feeding them just the right mixture of  healthy proteins and carbohydrates to help build up their energy as they wait for the first pollen and nectar sources to appear.

During this time, bees can leave the hive in search of other food and make their way into backyards or around residential properties. This is normal bee behavior as they seek out potential additional food sources.

If you do see a number of bees outside your house, on the side of buildings, enjoying a drink from a water source, or gathering on the grass or ground, please be patient as the bees will soon move on once the first flowers of the season start to bloom (these flowers include dandelions, clover, pussy willows etc.). You could consider adding a fresh water source for the bees to drink away from your house to help draw them away from your house.

We understand that it can be unsettling for some people to see bees around their house or property, but rest assured, bees are only concerned about seeking out food sources to build up their energy so they are ready to do what they do best – and that’s supporting the sustainability of our amazing Canadian agriculture sector though pollination and creating pure, delicious Alberta honey for us to enjoy!

Please note: If the cluster grows larger or starts to turn into a swarm, please see the below information and resources.

Honey Bee Swarms

Photo credit: Tanya Hardy Dubeau

Although bee swarms are a very natural process, when it happens, most people aren’t sure what to do.

When you see a bee swarm outside the hive, it’s a sign that a hive has two queens, when only one is needed. One of these queens, and all her workers, need to find somewhere else to live and work.

While swarms are rarely dangerous if left undisturbed – many people have a fear of insects that look like they sting.

Most of these insects are just ‘doing their own thing’ and leaving them alone will reduce the risk of stinging. However, it is recognized that – in some cases – insects can create ongoing problems.

If you think bees are causing a concern in your area – or you’ve seen them swarming – this information will help you decide what to do.

1. Know the difference between honey bees and other flying insects.

A honey bee’s distinctive yellow and black colouring make them readily identifiable, but not all flying yellow-and-black insects are honey bees! These visuals and identification tips can help you with determining a honey bee from other insects.

  • Honey bees are relatively large, slim insects (about 12 mm or 1/2” long), with three distinct body parts and four wings. They are covered with short hair and range in colour from a dusty yellow to almost black. They usually have a few bands of contrasting colour across their abdomen.
  • Honey bees are NOT shiny or bright black.
  • Honey bees DO NOT have a single bright yellow or orange band across their abdomen.
  • Honey bees do NOT have nests that are covered in ‘paper’.
  • Honey bees do NOT dig nests in the ground, make nests in old mouse nests or similar spots.
  • Honey bees do NOT cut holes in the leaves of ornamental plants.

2.How can I identify a swarm?

Honey bee swarms are most noticeable when there is a dense group of insects flying in all directions but tending, as a group, to move in one direction.

Once the swarm lands (or clusters) it becomes a very dense mass of bees that can be clustered in a tree or bush, on a fence post or the side of a building. A swarm that clusters in an exposed area may just be resting and may move on to find permanent residence in a more sheltered spot where they can build their wax comb.

A swarm is best described as a soccer ball-sized cluster that is attached high up on a tree or building without any sort of a nest. Wasps and bumble bees do not swarm (if you see a grey ‘paper’ nest, that’s a wasp, not a bee). If you see a swarm, you’ve got honey bees.

3.What should I do if I find a swarm?

Swarms land or cluster in trees or bushes, on fence posts or the sides of buildings. Sometimes, this is an out-of-the-way spot, but other times, it’s in a place that’s not ideal for the new colony to reside permanently.

Be aware that swarms are intent on finding a new location to establish, not on attacking. When honey bees are in a swarm, they are in a docile state. Having said that, keep your distance because when bees feel threatened, or the swarm is disturbed, they can sting.

Sometimes, if you leave a swarm for several hours, or a day or two, it moves on. If you’ve observed the swarm for a couple of days and it doesn’t seem to be moving, the best thing to do is call a swarm catcher or someone who is experienced to remove a swarm before the bees settle permanently. Don’t try to move or destroy the swarm yourself.

Nervous about bee stings?

Check out this informative and helpful guide by the Pollinator Partnership on ‘Inviting Bees to Your Property: No Fear of Stings!’

2024 Swarm Catchers

The ABC does not provide any swarm removable services, but below is a list of volunteer beekeeping clubs that offer support with honey bee swarm removal.

If you believe you have a problem with insects other than honey bees, consult your local Yellow Pages for a pest control service. Extermination should be considered only as a last resort.