It is such a joy to see the honeybees flying during the winter months.
After a long summer of seeing the bees daily flying in and out of their hives, the winter months are a time of patience and faith that all will be well.
As soon as the sun comes out and the temperature is warm enough ( over 10 degrees) , I go out to my hives to watch for signs of life.
During the winter, bees cluster together in their reduced number of around 10,000 from their summer numbers of 50,000.
The queen stops laying and so the need to collect pollen ( food for brood) is not necessary. Very little nectar is available in low temperatures and so the bees feed on their own honey stores.
Why do they fly in winter?
As bees are incredibly clean creatures, they choose not to deficate inside the hive. As soon as the weather is right the bees leave the hive on ‘cleansing flights’ .
They also take the opportunity to remove any dead bees or wax cappings from the hive, depositing them as far away from the entrance as the weather allows.
A sign that your bees are surviving is a mess just outside their entrance!
It can be unnerving watching wild colonies in trees.
They don’t seem to be out flying as often as hives bees.
This could be for several reasons.
The worst one being that they haven’t survived.
As wild bees won’t have had their honey taken ( at least not from humans) they will have sufficient stores and so should not have starved.
Some of the wild colonies I’ve observed have hives deep in old large trees and so could be so insulated from changeable weather that they take longer to ‘warm up’. I have some extra gadgets for checking bees during the winter; a Doctor’s stethoscope to listen through the hive walls for familiar buzzing or the rustle of bees huddled, and a later heat detector.
I can point the detector at the walls of the hive to try and spot where the cluster is positioned. Sadly tree trunks are just too thick for either of these to be of any use, so it’s a case of waiting and watching…