On Saturday, I walked out into my backyard to do some weeding, and encountered the following sight:
That, friends, is what you call a good old fashioned swarm of bees. Swarming is a natural bee behavior at this time of the year, usually due to population growth and crowded conditions in a hive. Swarming is how bee populations multiply — basically the queen takes off with a significant portion of the worker bees (and a few lazy drones), leaving those behind to raise a new queen.
Unless someone else's hive or a nearby feral colony swarmed and they just happened to pick a beekeepers yard to land in (highly unlikely), these are probably bees from my hive. I'll find out when I get time to inspect my hive this week, weather cooperating. Rather than fret about that, I immediately called our swarm list coordinator at the Pikes Peak Beekeepers Association to see if anyone on the list wanted to come capture the bees. (Considering that 10 to 12,000 new bees and queen costs about $80, catching a swarm with a queen and more than double that amount of workers for free is a good deal.)
My friend Matt from the club called back before the coordinator, and agreed to help me capture the bees and install them into a new hive box for a neighbor. Once recaptured, you cannot re-install them from the hive from which they swarmed — they'll just take off again (remember, it was already crowded). Generally, you want to move as quick as possible to capture a swarm, because at any moment, a scout could return and announce a new home and they'll all take off. Contrary to what you see in cartoons, bee swarms are actually quite docile, because prior to leaving, they gorge on honey for the trip. Also, aside from being protective of the queen, they aren't really defending a hive comprised of brood (eggs and babies). Prior to gearing up, we actually walked directly up to the bee beard and checked it out with no stings sustained.
So, the lesson here, kids, is to not freak out if on some fine spring day you find a swarm of bees in your yard. Calmly call the club and wait for someone to show up to capture it for you. There are several folks each season awaiting free bees via this process, and to them, what you perceive as a crisis is just business as usual.