Woodpeckers, Great tits, mice and Red Mason, leafcutter bee cocoons.

October 30, 2015

in Birds, Gardening For Wildlife, Leafcutter bees, Red mason solitary bees, Solitary Bee Observation Box

Why did you buy your bee home?

There has been a surge in the number and designs of bee houses (they are not hotels!) you can buy in garden centres. Alas many of them were designed for the wrong reasons. Some designs just don’t work, have harmful or minimal outputs for bees in terms of survival from predators, disease and environmental factors. To be frank, they have been designed to appeal to us purely for aesthetics. They simply look nice. Great if thats all you want it for. Or did you buy it thinking you would help your garden bees? I suggest you read this article Beware. Is your ‘bee hotel’ a nursery for disease and pests? You are welcome to download the scientific paper mentioned. Then make your own mind up.

What to do with your bee homes now.

Hopefully you will have many completed solitary bee cells full of Red masons, leaf cutters and others. Leaving them in situ is fine if that’s all you want to do. However, such tasty morsels may be just that, once a great tit or worse, a woodpecker finds them! Depending on the design and nesting materials, besides feasting, birds, mice and squirrels may also damage the nests. Once an easy food resource is found, predators will return. Great tits can only access the outermost cells for food. However woodpeckers are a different matter!  I have not heard of squirrels predating upon them, but no doubt they could.

Canes destroyed by birds

Great tit damage to Red mason bee cell

Great tit damage to Red mason bee cell

Chicken wire hazards

You can read on many sites that a chicken wire mesh should be put up to protect your bees from predatory birds. A few considerations. Chicken wire of the largest available mesh will protect your bee nests, but can also deter bees nesting. Metal mesh in particular tends to damage the bee’s wings and they can have difficulty navigating their way to their particular cell especially when large numbers of bees are flying in and out at the same time. Perhaps a plastic mesh may help with damaging bees wings?

Distance from nest box

Putting wire up has to be at a distance that can prevent woodpeckers from getting at the nest boxes. Simple! I have seen mesh placed a very short distance indeed from the bee cells. Its down to the length of the woodpeckers tongue! A great spotted woodpecker has a tongue which protrudes 40mm BEYOND its bill. If it clings to the mesh, it can easily manoeuvre its head to its best advantage. I have not come across any reports of ant eating Green Woodpeckers eating bee cocoons/larvae. I suspect they too would if they discovered the nests. With a tongue armed with barbs at the end and 10cms long, its just as well! If anyone has found they do predate on bee cocoons/nest please let me know and I will write this for others to read.

Ideally place the mesh no more than 7-10cms from the surface of nest blocks. Any closer and besides not protecting from birds, further distances disrupt bee flight significantly.

Safeguarding your precious bees for next year

At the very least put nest boxes out of harms way from birds, mice, etc. and the wet weather by simply turning them around! If you want to increase your bee numbers, put them in a cool garage, shed etc., out of harms way from mice. Better still, harvest your bees and store them!

Simple weather/predator proofing over winter

Simple weather/predator proofing over winter

Download a woodpecker ID chart from the BTO here

If garden bird watching is your thing, then see the BTO Garden BirdWatch, it may help you enjoy the winter a little more!

 

 

 

 

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