Bees in a birdhouse.

Asked May 7, 2017, 8:43 PM EDT

I have some bees living in a birdhouse in my yard in Portland, OR. I tried getting a good look at them and was rewarded with a sting near my eye. The one thing I can tell about them is that the abdomen is a lovely rust color. Can you tell me which PNW bees have this coloring. The only ones I have found online are from the northeast or east of the Rockies.

Multnomah County Oregon

5 Responses

There are so many pollinator bees around, of all sizes and shapes. Most are solitary bees, that is they don't form colonies. Many live underground. Your bees do form colonies and they live above ground. Bumblebees often have rust color on their abdomen. If your bees are bumblebees they will be large, furry stocky bees, must stockier than a honeybee). There are many kinds of bumble bees. If you could get a photo, that would really help with identifying the bee.

Pocket Field Guide: Native Bees of the Willamette Valley will give you an idea of the many types of bees, and how to decide to which group the bee belongs. That narrows the possibilities, making it easier to get to a final identification

So, as you may imagine, I am loath to approach the birdhouse too closely after getting stung in the face. However, I did manage to get a not very good photo on a rainy day when they are not too active.

Our resident insect expert, Jean Natter, has confirmed your bee as a bumblebee. Bumblebees are very important pollinators and although they can sting, as you found out, generally they ignore humans and other animals. Their colonies are much smaller than honeybees, 50-500 bees. In late fall the entire colony except the queen dies. The queen hibernates and starts a new colony in the spring.

If having a colony of bumblebees causes a problem, Jean suggests the following:

1. Ignore the issue until the colony normally dies out toward the end of the year, then remove the birdhouse and either clean or discard it.
2. Contact a beekeeper who will collect bumble bees. Few beekeepers will, but those who will are on the list Ruhl Bee Supply has on their website.
3. Contact a pest control company to remove the birdhouse and bees.

I did not mean to suggest that I was unhappy with having the bees here. Indeed, I am happy about it. I just need to be sure to give them their space. I have three houses for mason bees but they are more mellow and don't mind if I get close. Do you think they are Bombus melanopygus? Just curious.

Good for you! Tolerance of other creatures is admirable, especially ones that so clearly and directly benefit us. You are having a positive effect on your environment. Plus bumblebees are just fun to watch!

Congratulations on your research efforts. Jean agrees that your bee is most likely Bombus melanopygus.

Thank you for an interesting question