Bumble Bee Box Monitoring Program

In 2017 the Alberta Native Bee Council launched a citizen science bumble bee box monitoring program. Bumble bee boxes are similar to bird houses wherein bumble bees may or may not colonize the box. In the literature, bumble bee colonization rates vary widely but in Alberta we regularly find that about 25% of our bee boxes are colonized with higher rates in urban areas than in rural areas.


If you would like to participate in our bumble bee box program you can either build your own bumble bee box (see below for instructions) or join us at a workshop to build and assemble a bumble bee box. Keep an eye on the website and Facebook page for event details.


Once you have a bumble bee box, place it in your yard, on your balcony or anywhere outside where a bumble bee queen might find it. Bee boxes can be placed on the ground, above the ground affixed to a tree or fence post or even buried underground connected to the surface with a tube.  


Bumble bee boxes should be protected from afternoon sun, rain and wind. South or east facing boxes are ideal as this orientation provides morning sun to warm the colony. A piece of thick plastic can be stapled to hang over the box protecting it from rain. Ensure that the front of the box is not aligned so that the bees will fly perpendicular to prevailing winds when entering and leaving the box.


Bumble bee life cycles:


Bumble bee queens emerge from their winter hibernation in very early spring and seek out suitable nesting resources. In the wild bumble bees will nest in tussocks of grass, tree cavities and old rodent holes. Once a queen has found a nest location she will start laying eggs that will emerge as worker bees in three to five weeks. The colony will grow in size until late summer when the queen produces eggs that will become new queens and eggs that will become males. The new queens and males leave the nest and mate. Only the newly mated queen bees go on to overwinter, typically by burrowing themselves into the soil. All of the other bees (i.e., the queen who started the colony, the workers and the male bees) die-off and the cycle will continue again in the spring.


Bumble bee box timing: 


Bumble bee boxes should be placed outside as soon as the snow has melted and the first flowers (e.g., crocuses, tulips, etc.) are emerging. In Alberta, you will want to ensure your bumble bee box is outside by May long weekend. Make sure you have clean cotton stuffing to place in your bee box in spring. Bumble bees like to have something to bed down in and researchers have determined that raw cotton works well. Other natural materials may be used but ensure that bedding material will not tangle little bee tarsi or condensate in the box.


If no bumble bees have inhabited your bumble bee box by the first of July (Canada Day long weekend), then the box will not be colonized by bumble bees this year. You can bring your bee box inside for storage or leave it outside to allow it to weather. You can report back now on bee activity by visiting the ‘Bumble Bee Box Reporting Form’ Tab on our website. It is important to report back even if no bees inhabited your bumble bee box.


If your bumble bee box was colonized, the colony will start to die-off in September. By mid-October (Thanksgiving weekend), there should be no bees living in your bumble bee box. This is when you should inspect, report back to the Alberta Native Bee Council and clean your bumble bee box. See the ‘Bumble Bee Box Reporting Form’ Tab on our website for details on how to report back. Remember, it is important to report back whether your bumble bee box was colonized or not! Fall is also the best time to clean your bumble bee box. All box contents should be removed. and the inside and exterior (especially the front of the box) should be wiped with a mild bleach solution. The Alberta Native Bee Council is interested in collecting colonies for further research. If you have a colony that you’re willing to let us collect, send us an email: info@albertanativebeecouncil.ca 


The Alberta Native Bee Council would like to recognize Mount Royal University’s Institute for Environmental Sustainability for funding received in 2017 that allowed us to distribute bumble bee box materials for free. 


The Alberta Native Bee Council would like to recognize the Nature Conservancy of Canada for partnering with the us in 2019 to help promote our bumble bee box monitoring program.


If you would like to sponsor our monitoring program or any of our other initiatives please contact us at: info@albertanativebeecouncil.ca.