Esquimalt Bee Swarm
A swarm of bees appeared in an Esquimalt yard earlier this week (photo by Diane Farries)

An Esquimalt resident was having a neighbour over at her home on Sunday for a visit when they noticed something out of the window: a huge cloud of bugs.

“We went out to the yard and half of it was covered in bees,” says Pica in a phone call with Victoria Buzz. “Initially it was frightening. But they didn’t care at all.”

A third neighbour googled bee swarms and discovered a lifeline: the Capital Region Beekeepers Association (CRBA).

Peter Day, a beekeeper and director of CRBA’s swarm response, answered the call.

“He showed up to see what to do about them,” Pica says. “They were really efficient and knew what they were doing.”

The CBRA is a volunteer-based association that Day says can provide knowledgeable beekeepers who will help collect bees and give them a home before they end up in difficult-to-reach spots like attics or chimneys.

“Swarm collecting is a bit of an art,” Day says.

When bees swarm, they are preparing to form a new hive with a new Queen, says Day. Scout bees will be sent out, report back, and then the whole swarm will follow.

Just as Day and another volunteer were preparing to collect the swarm from Pica’s yard, the scout reported back and the bees took off.

A second target

“They went over to Flying Squirrel about a block away,” Day says.

The Flying Squirrel, a trampoline park and entertainment centre, was open that day, and a couple of young patrons spotted the swarm first.

“A lady and her kids were just leaving and the kids came out and they looked and just stopped dead in their tracks and ran back in,” Day says.

Some quick-thinking employees shut the doors to prevent the bees from entering, an action which Day says saved them a lot of trouble. He says the bees may have wanted to build their hive inside.

“It is unusual for bees to consider going indoors but they seemed to be interested in going in.”

With the doors closed, the bees grew tired and gathered on a nearby maple branch.

Day cut off the branch and shook most of the bees into a box. The remainder of the swarm followed into the box when night fell.

For the Flying Squirrel, it was a close call to having a beehive in the building, but for Day this was business as usual.

Peter Day Bees
Peter Day collecting bees at Flying Squirrel (courtesy Peter Day)

How swarm response works

The CRBA has about 180 members who help them track hives in the area.

“When we get a call of a swarm, the first thing that we do is we determine where the swarm is and we go to our map to see if we might be able to determine who owns the bees.”

The swarm responders check with hive owners to see if their bees have swarmed, and if they have, they ask if they would like to retrieve them.

In some cases, however, a beekeeper may be at their limit for beekeeping. Day says that the Township of Esquimalt permits a maximum of three bee hives for private keepers.

In other cases, the swarm may not belong to anyone. That was the case for the rogue Flying Squirrel bees.

In a situation like this, Day says, the bees are generally “adopted” by a beekeeper who has space. He says he has personally taken ownership of the swarm from Pica’s yard.

Pica says she was very impressed by Day and the CRBA’s work and wants other people to know they don’t have to be afraid and react poorly to bee swarms.

“Most flying creatures, if you don’t get into their nest, they won’t bother you,” Pica says. “I’ve never seen a bee swarm, it was really an amazing experience.”

Day says that anyone looking for more information on the CRBA can find them online at capitalregionbeekeepers.ca. Annual membership fees are $32, with monthly meetings currently held via Zoom due to COVID-19.

If you encounter a bee swarm in your area you can reach CBRA’s swarm response by phone at 250-900-5787, or by email at swarms@capitalregionbeekeepers.ca.