3 Easy Ways to Provide Bumble Bee Nesting Sites

Bumble bees are important pollinators, but they don’t get the attention of their honey bee cousins. In the eastern U.S., there are 21 species of bumble bees, including the federally endangered rusty-patched bumble bee.

The endangered rusty-patched bumble bee is one of 21 species of bumble bees found in the eastern U.S. Photo credit: USFWS Midwest Region, cc-by 2.0

Bumble bee queens emerge in the early spring and search for a nesting site. She will lay the first eggs and care for the brood until the colony grows large enough for her daughters to take over the jobs of foraging for the colony and caring for the larva while the queen concentrates on laying eggs. A bumble bee colony may grow to a few hundred individuals by the middle of the summer, but only the new queens produced by the colony will live through the winter.

For those wanting to encourage bumble bees on their property it is important to provide them with both food (lots of nectar and pollen producing flowers) and shelter (nesting sites). Here are 3 easy ways to provide bumble bee nesting sites.

  1. Leave clumps of grass
    Bumble bees will sometimes build their nests in the natural shelter created at the base of the clump.
  2. Leave up old birdhouses
    Some species of bumble bees will nest in old, abandoned birdhouses. While it is important to clean out the old nest for the health of any birds that might try to use the house, bumble bees are more likely to use the birdhouse if it has something in it. Dried moss, chopped up straw or dried grass, or dried leaves can all be added to the birdhouse as potential bumble bee nesting material.
  3. Build a bumble bee nest box
    Bumble bee nest boxes can be created several different ways. Two of the most common are described below.
    • Build a wooden nest box. The box is set on the ground or buried in the ground with a tube leading between the surface and the box. This is the method recommended by the Xerces Society. More information about how to build a wooden bumble bee nest box and where to locate it can be found at the end of this pdf created by the Xerces Society.
    • Turn a terra cotta flower pot, roofing tile, and hose into a nest box. If building a wooden nest box isn’t something you want to tackle right now, the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust out of the UK has directions for how to turn a terra cotta flower pot, roofing tile, and piece of a hose into a nest box.

This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.

Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.

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