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How to move a bumble bee nest

The first question to ask yourself is this: Must you actually move the bumble bee nest? Is such a drastic measure really necessary?


    • Bumble bees in many parts of the world, including species endemic to the United States and Great Britain, are threatened with extinction. Some species are already gone.
    • A bumble nest lasts only one season. Some species are done nesting by the end of July; some persist until the first freeze. After that, only newly mated queens survive the winter, and they do that by digging a small hole in the ground and hibernating alone until spring.
    • Bumble bees are not aggressive and tend to sting only if their home is threatened. Most people most of the time can peacefully co-exist with bumble bees.
    • Bumble bees are excellent long-tongued pollinators and key players in a healthy environment.
    • Unless there is some compelling reason to move it, please leave it alone. After it dies off at the end of the season, you can clean up the area so that another queen doesn’t choose the same location the following year. Sometimes the entrance can be re-routed which solves the immediate problem without moving the nest.

That said, some situations require us to move a nest. Nests are usually in the ground but may be found in places such as bird houses, mail boxes, compost heaps, trash barrels, and outdoor upholstery. Although different situations require different handling, some basic guidelines apply to all.

The Basics of Moving a Bumble Bee Nest

    • Before you try to move a nest, study it closely so you know exactly where it is and what has to be done.
    • Know exactly where you will put the nest after you take it from its present location.
    • If the nest is underground or in an immovable object, you will need to make or purchase a nesting box in advance.
    • Assemble all the tools and equipment you will need beforehand. You want to interfere as little as possible and complete the job quickly. You don’t want to start looking for a screwdriver when the job is half complete.
    • Wear protective clothing, especially gloves and a long-sleeved shirt.
    • Only attempt the move at night when all the bees are home. Bumbles will not fly in the dark, so night is the best time to work.
    • Use a flashlight with a red beam. You can cover a flashlight with red plastic or use a red bicycle lamp. Like most bees, bumbles don’t see the color red. By using red light, you prevent the bees from flying toward your beam.
    • The job goes easier with two people, one to hold the light and the other to move the bees. (If beekeepers are involved, it may take more because of all the opinions to consider.)

What Will I Find in There?

In the spring, a queen bumble selects a location for her nest. She often picks a place that is pre-furnished with nesting materials such as an abandoned rodent burrow, an empty bird nest, or maybe even some cotton batting. On top of this soft mat she builds a wax cell where she will lay her first eggs and, nearby, she fashions a small waxen pot where she will store nectar.

As time goes by, the queen will build more brood cells and more nectar pots. After the first batch of workers is hatched, they begin to take over the job of building cells, caring for the young, and foraging for food. The nest increases in size as the workers expand the nursery with even more cells and nectar pots.

The size of the nest you find will depend on how far along in the process the colony has come. In temperate climates, bumble bee colonies usually contain less than 100 workers. When moving the nest, care must be taken not to crush or tear the delicate brood cells and not to spill the nectar pots.

Rerouting the Entrance

Sometimes the nest entrance can be rerouted by attaching a piece of hose or pipe to the opening and forcing the bees to fly through it. For example, if the bees are exiting their home between the steps of your porch, you may be able to run the pipe to the side of the house instead. Sometimes this can make all the difference.

  1. The hose, pipe, or conduit should be at least 2 cm in diameter.
  2. Measure in advance, to make sure you have enough length.
  3. After dark, approach the nest and install the tube. Depending on how their entrance is built, you may have to improvise a way to make the connection between tube and hole. Mud can be used to “glue” it in place.
  4. Look for other entrances and stop them up as well. The bees must have no choice but to leave through the tube.
  5. Secure the far end of the tube so it doesn’t wiggle around. Orient the opening so it sheds—rather than collects—water.
  6. Check on the bees the next day to be sure they are coming and going. If no bees appear, check your connections the next evening.

Moving a Colony in a Birdhouse

  1. After dark, stop up the entrance hole. Also plug any extraneous cracks or loose joints that the bumbles could get through.
  2. Take down the birdhouse, being careful to keep it upright.
  3. Move the birdhouse to its new location and install it.
  4. Leave the birdhouse closed up overnight. The next day you can remove the plug and the bees will reorient themselves.

Moving Bees that are Underground, in Compost or Trash, or in Immovable Objects

This is the hardest situation and also the most common.

  1. Prepare the nest box by adding cotton batting, moss, or grass clippings to the inside, and plugging the entrance hole from the outside.
  2. After dark, carefully excavate the original nest by gently removing the surface layers of soil or compost. Move a little at a time until you uncover the wax structures.
  3. Slide a shovel or spade underneath the nest in such a way as to lift the entire thing with one scoop.
  4. Gently place the nest in the box, being careful to keep it upright.
  5. Cover the nest box with the lid and move it gently to its new location.
  6. Leave the entrance hole sealed overnight.
  7. The next day, unplug the entrance hole and watch the bees orient themselves to their new home.


These bird houses are displayed at the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture in Corvallis, Oregon. Each bird house was home to a bumble bee colony, and each was collected from a community resident who called on the center to “come and take them away.”



I love bumble bees and have been pleased to see a number of them this spring and summer. I have no idea where their nests are. They just show up each day, enjoying the bee-friendly plants I planted for them, the hummers, and the flutter-bys. I shall have to spend some time watching their traffic patterns to locate their homes. We are renovating and adding onto our home this summer. I would hate to create homeless bumbles while making our home more comfortable for my family. Any suggestions for finding their homes??



It’s called bee lining and involves triangulation. It’s the way beekeepers used to find colonies of honey bees in the wild.


Brilliant, sensible and informative as usual. The “…. (If beekeepers are involved, it may take more because of all the opinions to consider.)..” observation is spot on!!! 🙂


No live bees in my birdhouse. I took down to clean and I don’t mind if the bees stay there. Should I remove the old nest or do they keep using it? Also, will they attack a bird for trying to use the house? Thanks.



1. They like the used nests. I save old bird nests to line my bumble bee houses.

2. No, more likely the bird attacks them. Many birds eat bees.


Hi, I picked up a blanket on my outdoor sofa and unknowingly disturbed a bee nest. I don’t want t bother them any more nor for any of them to die, but I worry some are trapped in the blanket… what should I do?



Just leave them alone. They will find their way out.


I have a bee’s nest under the floor at the very back of a hut that I am about every to demolish and erect a new one on. The floor is rotten and when clearing it out, three big bees popped out of the hole. I have read your advice but won’t be able to demolish in the dark. Any ideas please?



Do you know they are bumble bees? It could be any of various types of bee or wasp. I think I would just go ahead and do what you have to do.

Amanda Morales

I have a bees nest that is growing from the top of my compost to the ground. It doesn’t touch the ground yet but would like to move the combs along with bees into a box. How do i move the entire thing?



If you mean put them in a regular brood box, you have to cut off each comb separately and tie it securely into a frame. You may have to trim the combs to get them to fit properly.

Arno Willkomm

I live in the arctic. Our houses are above ground and honey bees have started a nest this spring in the underside of my house. I can access the nest by removing a sheet of plywood but do not know what to do or how to move the nest not kill them.



Honey bees or bumble bees?


I’m in Scotland and it’s mid-July. I have bumbles nesting in my wall cavity and they use an air brick for access. I’m going to be getting significant building work done to the area in a few weeks – how can I tell when the nest is no longer in use? And do all the bumbles leave at the end of the season? I’d hate to have the nest damaged! Many thanks.



When you no longer see coming and going, the colony has probably died. Only the queen bees survive the winter, and they will nest somewhere else, a place just big enough for one bee. Normally nests are not used a second year unless a queen just happens to discover it the following year. So once the bees have died off for the year, you can tear out the nest with no problems.


Hello. I am having a house extension in 2 weeks but have a bumble bee nest in the patio which will be totally destroyed when building works start. The bees live under my patio (I previously use to feed a little mouse there) and its in a sunny location, so the nest has been thriving and I see large bees leaving and entering lately now as well as smaller ones. I am going to create a new “nest” further down the garden to try to let them move a week before the building work and well built and if the tunnels are long it may take a while to find the nest. My main concern is if we (my partner and I) have to move them, we would be in danger if stung more than a few times? I have been stung before by wasps and have not been that bothered. However, my partner who is a builder has volunteered to break up the patio but he has never been stung before but could probably break up the patio very quickly. Please could you therefore confirm the size of the largest bumble bee colonies? Following your advice, if my partner could just remove the patio tiles to expose their nest in the night, would the bees, if given a week, move to the nest I create or move to somewhere else? It is now July 12th and they are still very active. The builders are due July 31st. I live in the UK.



Bumble bee nests can range from a few dozen bees up to about 500 individuals. The very large bees you see are most probably queens that will soon leave the nest and find a place to overwinter. The rest of the colony will die out at the end of the summer.

It is hard to get the bees to move, although you can try digging up the nest and moving it. At any rate, they won’t overwinter in that location. Each mated queen will find a little hole somewhere to overwinter by herself. Then in spring, the survivors will each start a new colony.

In my opinion, bumble stings are nasty, and more painful than honey bees. On the other hand they are not quick to sting. But once you start digging at or near their home, they will get riled up for sure. I recommend a face veil and full body covering, including hands and ankles.

Perhaps you’ve heard the rumor that bees don’t sting at night? Well, it’s a rumor. Their stingers work just fine any old time. I would work with them in the daylight so at least you can see what you’re doing and where they are.

Amanda Morales

Regarding your response to julie. The bees in my compost will they die and not come back or do you think the queen will stay? I’d like her to stay. How do honey bee farms work? Same way? Bees die queen leaves and you hope another queen finds the box?



Honey bees and bumble bees have different life cycles. A bumble bee queen selects a nest in spring, raises a family, and the whole colony dies in the fall except for new queens. The new queens go out a find a place to hibernate by themselves. Then, in spring, the queens look for places to start a new colony.

Honey bees do not hibernate. Instead the entire colony is active all winter long. They stay inside when it’s cold and fly around when it’s warmer, but the colony can live many years. When a new queen replaces the old one, they may continue to live in the same place. Sometimes part of the colony leaves to start a new colony, but the old colony continues on.

Amanda Morales

Hopefully, I have honey bees. What’s the difference in their hives? And from what I’ve been reading, the colony for honey bees is way larger then bumble bees.



That’s true. Honey bees nearly always nest above ground in trees or hanging from the the eaves of houses, and they may have 50,000 members. Bumble bees usually nest underground and have several hundred members. Other things, like yellowjackets, also nest underground.

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