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Backyard Biodiversity: Nest boxes for native bees

Updated April 16, 2019
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Amanda Bachmann

SDSU Extension Pesticide Education & Urban Entomology Field Specialist

When people think about where bees live, the first thing that often comes to mind is the honey bee and her well-organized hive. However, not all bees live like this. Many of our native bee species are solitary. In order to ensure that these kinds of bees spend more time in our yards and gardens, it is important to make sure we include places for them to nest.

The native plants that these bees visit can provide a home for them at the end of the season. Hollow stems are used as overwintering sites by bees, and this is a great reason to leave those stems standing through the winter and into spring. As the temperatures warm up, those bees will emerge and begin visiting your spring flowers.

Small carpenter bees, mason bees, and leaf-cutting bees are all groups that utilize holes, like those provided by bee boxes (either with straws, or drilled holes). You can provide nesting space for stem-nesters by building a nest box and filling it with straws or drilling holes into a block of wood. Different bee species utilize holes of different diameters, so you can include a variety of sizes and then observe it throughout the summer to see what the bees in your yard prefer.

This year, Backyard Biodiversity in South Dakota is including man-made solitary bee nests on a trial basis. In collaboration with the O’Neal lab at Iowa State, we are providing the directions to build your own bee nest using PVC pipe. The PVC bee nest site is filled with wide-diameter paper straws, which is what the bees will use to nest. The paper straws were purchased in bulk with grant funds awarded to the project.

The Backyard Biodiversity project is not just about nest boxes. We are still looking for volunteers to observe the flowering plants in their backyard throughout the summer and record what pollinators they see. Data sheets and instructions are available by contacting Amanda Bachmann.

Resources for building a nest box:

Related Terms

Pollinators, Flower, Conservation