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Caught a birdhouse swarm, hived it, left it alone, and now the bees are in the wrong place


I’m in Rwanda and pretty sure I’m the only Flow User here, and my beekeeping mentor has been ill and unable to mentor me, so I’m calling on you forum users (i.e. generally more experienced beekeepers) for help. I’ve been reading 4 beekeeping books and following this forum regularly and learning all sorts of stuff. I got my Flow Hive in March and have been waiting to get bees-partially because of the weather here and partially because of my recent crazy work travel season. Right now it’s a dry season but there’s plenty of flowers blooming because, well, it’s Rwanda.

The bees:
So four weeks ago a friend told me he had a swarm of bees on the side of his garage wall. They had come from his attic and now had overtaken an old birdhouse and so I went to check them out. Having waited for bees for so long, I wanted them but was super anxious about catching a swarm for my first set of bees–because no one thought that was a good idea. But I researched it to death (read 22 different articles and such about catching swarms) and decided to go for it. (There was also another swarm of bees up in a palm tree about thirty feet, and I decided to not go for those.) The birdhouse as I found it is pictured here:

The catch:
So I used all the good swarm catching techniques I could muster and got the swarm by knocking the birdhouse off the wall. I put it in a cardboard box for a few hours and all the bees had left the wall, so I sealed up the box and brought it home as pictured below.

Once I got them home:
I did not take apart the birdhouse because a) I couldn’t and b) I was too worried they’d just abscond if they didn’t have a good home to go instead. I put the birdhouse on a white sheet right below my flow hive, but that didn’t work. They never left the birdhouse after several hours, so (and this might have been my fatal error), I put on the second (super) box on top of the brood box (without the Flow frames obviously). I then put the birdhouse inside it, put on the inner cover, and then the roof. So that’s where I left it, for two weeks while I traveled. (I figured the break was good to leave them alone to get used to their new home) I also thought that while I was gone they’d either give up on the hive and be gone, or, hopefully they’d get comfortable.

Today’s update and quandary:
I just got back from my trip and so earlier today, I suited up, smoked the hive, and went down to the hive. Thank goodness the bees are still there! I’m so excited! They’re using the front entrance and drinking the water, it seems. They’re all there (and actually have grown in number) since I left it.

The quandary is that the bees are building comb inside the inner cover. Here’s one view:

And here’s what the second/top box looks like with the birdhouse obviously still being frequented by the bees.

They’re clearly loving their new home, but just hanging out in the wrong place: the birdhouse is their home within a home. They’ve build a ton of comb (that I could barely lift with one hand) on the inner cover. See below where you can see they’ve built comb off the inner cover so it just barely fits around the birdhouse. Here’s a picture of it all together as I tip up the inner cover:

Most troubling, is that they’re not doing anything in the lower box where I have the 8 foundationless frames hanging. I don’t have pictures of that, but I saw that those frames are bare with the starter strips I have there are just as I left them.

So one thing I’m considering doing are taking most of the frames out of the lower box, moving the birdhouse down there and putting the inner cover on top of the lower box, and taking away the second box. Basically that means moving the entire operation down a box and then adding a frame in the space to the left of the birdhouse (as pictured). I think I can fit in one frame next to the birdhouse, but that’s it. But that just continues the problem of the bees considering the birdhouse home, and now the modern hive. Right? Someone please tell me this (idea #1) is crazy, because I think it is.

I could use a crowbar and crack open the birdhouse and force them out, but a) that doesn’t seem very nice and would upset it and b) that still leaves the problem of a massive comb they’ve built under the inner cover which is not in the right place.

_Does anyone else have any ideas? After waiting so long, I don’t want to lose these bees, but also don’t know how to get them to take to the hive and not the birdhouse. It’s a problem of my own making._I know, I know.

Bees went away, what did I do?

The bees want to build comb from top to bottom, mainly why they aren’t on the frames. At this point you can remove the comb and rubber band, string or wire it to the frames. Definitely remove the bees from the birdhouse…


As you have already worked out, they consider the birdhouse to be their hive/home. They will not leave it willingly. If you put it inside a bigger box, they will just try to fill up the gaps with comb again but they will keep using the birdhouse. You cannot stop them from doing that, they are just being normal bees! :blush:

I am worried that you will end up with a mess if you do that. I would suggest a cut-out instead. Take the comb from the inner cover and rubber band it into the empty frames, like this:

Not quite sure what you mean by “forcing them out”, but I would open up that birdhouse. Then I would try to cut out the wax comb inside it in as big pieces as possible and rubber band them into frames also, putting the brood comb in the middle frames and the honey and pollen stores on the outer frames. Yes it is somewhat destructive, but unless you can build some kind of adapter to mate the birdhouse with your Flow hive, the bees are not going to use your Flow hive properly for you.

Just my thoughts. Others may have better ideas. :wink:

Repairing brood comb
Swarm inside the hive
I put a swarm into my Flow Hive with both the brood box and Flow Super on - is this correct?
Comb building below a frame
Transfer from a Dadant hive to a Langstroth
Fragility of Foundationless Comb

Personally I’d follow @Dawn_SD s advice then once you have all the comb on frames, find the queen first and make sure she gets into the frames. then when the queen is safe in the frames i’d dump the rest of the workers out of that birdhouse and into the proper hive. take the birdhouse inside so they won’t be drawn to it’s scent. Remove that second box and let them have a go at one brood box. shouldn’t have the comb problem then :slight_smile:


After taking a look at your photo, it’s apparent that the bees are using the flow super as their home. What I would do is take the inner cover & bird box 2 or 3 meters away. Leave the flow super exactly where it sits. I’d gently remove the comb off the inner cover piece by piece & shake the bees into the empty super. Repeat that process with the bird box. I’d attach the comb into empty frames as suggested. I’d place the frames containing the comb into the flow super. I’m a fan of wax foundation so I’d be using wax foundation in the rest of the frames. Put everything in order, put the lid on & Bob’s your uncle.

PS, if the bees get a bit cranky, take the inner cover & bird box further away while you work on them. The bees will go back to the flow super.


Thanks, Dawn. With a cut out do the bees eventually just fill up the frame all around the hive you’re putting in? I don’t know how that works.


they will attach the cut comb to the frame and eventually remove the rubber bands too. they will handle everything just make sure the queen is safe.


If you have an 8 frame box, you cut out the comb and rubber band it (the same way up as it was in the bird house) into the frames. You then put the the frames back into your 8-frame brood box, without the birdhouse. The bees will fill in the empty spaces between the comb and the edge of the frames, filling the frames up to the edges (mostly) nice and neatly. You will need to check from time to time, because they can get creative and build crooked comb or double layers. Take the birdhouse well away from the hive - preferably miles away. :blush:

You should end up with nice neat frames of brood and honey. It will take them a few weeks, depending on nectar flow and colony strength, but they will know how to do it.


Thanks for all your help, everyone. I removed all the comb from within the birdhouse and the inner cover and moved it all to frames in the lower/bottom brood box. Secured with rubber bands, the comb took up part of 7 of the 8 frames. I took the birdhouse inside and took off the honey super, and the bees weren’t super cranky about it, so that made it easier. Thanks for all your help!


Wow, great job. Please keep us updated when you have time! :slight_smile:


Anymore photos of during, after? :slight_smile:


Thanks for all the help, forum users!

Here are some photos I took during the event before my cell phone became inoperable because of too much bee stuff (honey and propulis) on the screen.

This photo was taken after I took off the two largest combs from the inner cover and put it several meters away on the ground. As you can see, most of the bees were sticking with the inner cover. After I put all the combs from the inner cover (and from the birdhouse, pictured below) I shook all the bees into the brood box. 90% fell into the box and the rest of them flew toward the box with in the next 5-10 minutes.

This photo shows how they’d used ever square inch of available space in the birdhouse to build comb. It was jam packed. This picture shows the birdhouse door open and some really dark colored comb.

This is a piece of comb that was stuck to the under side of the inner cover. It’s lighter than I thought it’d be, but you can see some of the (very dark, as is usual in Rwanda) honey in the middle. This is before I secured it with rubber bands into the frames.

And that’s where the photos end because I couldn’t use my camera phone any more. But, as I said already, 7 of the eight frames have some type of comb rubber banded into them. I saw brood comb, honey comb, and everything looked about like I thought it would.

Thanks again for your help everyone. Tell me if there’s anything in these photos that strikes your eye.

I went back today and they’re still there. So I must’ve got the queen in there after all!


Thanks for posting them. :slight_smile: Well done too!


Wow, I am very impressed and proud of you for going ahead with this. Looks like you did a great job with the cut-out. If you got lots of brood comb, chances are that the queen would have followed. Even if she didn’t, if you had young brood in your frames, the bees can make another queen if they need to. I am sure that they needed the extra space, so you have really done them a favor by rehousing them.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Wishing you all the best, you deserve much success!


Wow what a great story…thanks for the picture/story/follow up pictures…great fun.


This is what I think we should do with the hive I am going to try to move. Got the frames and now to find the rubber bands.