Flying visit

I wasn't at home today but BCW was out and busy on the hunt for more bees!

Around about lunchtime BCW reported she thought she could hear scratching from inside the box with the camera/mic; and possibly some movement of the nesting material near the entrance. It wasn't totally conclusive though, as it was possible the wind was causing the movement and the lid to rattle a little bit. Tantalising!

Then between 2 and 2.15 BCW caught another redtail (Bb12). (While out she also saw a Carder and a Bufftail). BB12 went into the box without too much trouble and went straight to the back left corner - which is different to all the others, who have gone to the front left corner. She didn't stay still at all like all the others, but just explored a little. But she only stayed about 2 minutes before coming out. 

When she left she walked out onto the new grass outside and then when she took off she hovered back and forth over the box and flowers, gradually getting higher and higher. Then she flew off quite gently.

This is completely different behaviour to what we have seen before. The shortest any bee has stayed to date has been 20 mins, so this is a new "fastest exit" time! And, although the bees have left in a spiral, today's behaviour seems much more like the "landmarking" movements that bees make when, for example, they encounter humans in a field (see our research papers). In such scenarios they fly within about 2 metres of the human, then swing back and forth from left to right at a height of between 2 and 4 metres, and then perform a couple of circles. This is thought to be the Bumble taking a navigational note of what they see - and it's really amazing to experience when you are out in the fields: they all do it!

So, was little redtail getting her bearings for the nestbox? Again, we shan't know unless she returns, but this is probably the best behaviour we have seen so far.

So, this also begs the question about the 2 minutes inside the box; what was going on there? Here are a few theories:


  • She was very frightened/stressed and so left immediately - this doesn't seem to fit, she was calm and co-operative, more than many of the others; and the most agitated bees have actually stayed still inside the box after entering.
  • She thought maybe there was another animal in the box or that it was in use - there is perhaps a risk that the small amount of grass we have put in the box smells a bit fresh and she thinks an animal has placed it there recently (well, a human has!) 
  • Maybe there was another animal in there - perhaps there was a bee in there already, that BCW heard earlier?
  • She really liked it, knew it was a great nest, and decided to make a mental note of it and go out foraging


So, again, until some time has passed we cannot know what was going on in little BB12's head!

This is the new layout in the boxes by the way, with a small amount of cut grass inside.

 new box layout with cut grass and less bedding overall

An hour later, between 3 and 3.15pm, BCW then reported catching another redtail in the back garden! This is amazing to see them actually in the garden. However, BB13 was not very co-oeprative and she just refused to go into the front nest box. Maybe this was the same bee as BB11! In the end, BCW let her go rather than stress her too much. 

Again we applied a bit of "bee thinking" and had the brainwave of putting grass down between the lawn and the rear box. Since we have now seen 5 redtails searching the back lawn (which needs cutting!) we thought it made sense to "extend" the lawn across the narrow gravel border to the box. This way they might actually just explore all the way up to the box. And with the grass now around the front of the box to make it look more like a little nesting hole in a grassy mound, you never know, they might just be fooled inside it!

That's the theory anyway!