The bee hive in the fall is full of bees, brood, and food. However, by mid-winter, the hive is partially empty. Short-lived summer bees are gone; drones have been ejected; the year’s last brood has emerged; and a significant amount of the food stores have been eaten. The cluster of bees is slowly moving upward in the hive. As the bees eat their honey stores, they leave empty cells. The hive may have half of its cells empty. The empty air-filled cells make excellent insulation from cold winter drafts. Actually, little wind blows through the parallel sheets of bee hive comb.
If they are able to enter, mice find bee hives a welcoming home in the winter. Mice are known to build nests in the lower corners of bee hives. They are actually a greater nuisance to beekeepers than to the bees. If worker bees find a mouse inside the hive, they often sting it to death. Since they can’t drag the mouse outside, they entomb it in propolis. This prevents the spread of odor and bacteria throughout the hive. Beekeepers reduce the size of hive entrances in the winter to help keep mice out of the hive. Rodent populations, like those of many insects, expand widely every few years. This year, large populations of field mice and rats were observed over a wide area. Hawks and owls, birds of prey, are effective natural predators of rodents. Red-tailed hawks are common hunters throughout North America. Easily identified by their bright white breast feathers, they often perch on a low tree limb or fence post while waiting for a rodent to move. Then, they swoop down and grab their prey with sharp talons. The red-tailed hawk in today’s photo is frequently seen hunting on the ground in one Peace Bee Farm bee yard. Today, I found four nesting boxes occupied by sleeping screech owls, highly efficient night-time mouse catchers. Year-around, birds of prey help to control bee yard rodent pests.