Tag Archives: woodpecker

I hate those meeces to pieces

Mr. Jinks and Pixie & Dixie

Mr. Jinks and Pixie & Dixie

Like Mr. Jinks “I hate those meeces to pieces”. Mr. Jinks was talking about Pixie and Dixie, whereas I think my troubles were caused by wood mice (see photo on the right below). I checked some colonies last weekend and one of the nucs was suspiciously quiet. Upon further inspection it was clear that a family of mice had taken up residence and destroyed the colony. This is my first winter loss to rodents since I started beekeeping … and it’s my own fault. My standard, so-called ‘kewl’, floors are mouse resistant – they have an L-shaped entrance tunnel that is too narrow for a mouse to get through. I’ve used these for several years and, consequently, pretty much ignored the need for mouseguards. I’ve also overwintered many poly nucs over the last few seasons and never had an issue with rodents. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. Whatever the reason, the combination of no previous problems coupled with misplacing lots of my little-used (“When did I buy that?” and “I never knew I owned one of those”) beekeeping paraphernalia during the move to Scotland meant that I didn’t put mouseguards on any of the Everynuc poly nucs in my apiaries. These nucs have a cavernous entrance, just about the only poor design feature of these hives in my opinion.

I sublimated these colonies with oxalic acid (OA) on the 9th of December and had checked the removable tray a few days later … there were few if any mites, but also very little hive detritus (legs, cappings, pollen etc.). However, it was a filthy wet day (again) and I didn’t have a veil or gloves with me so left them to it. I suspect the mice moved in shortly after the nuc was treated with OA (or they’re a lot less affected by vaporised OA than beekeepers are), leaving them nearly three weeks to wreak carnage in, what was, a very strong nuc. I’ve now found the mouseguards and fitted them to the remaining nucs … better late than never.

More winter troublemakers

Woody Woodpecker

Woody Woodpecker

While we’re on the subject of hives receiving unwanted attention in the winter it’s worth remembering Woody Woodpecker. Green woodpeckers – these, not the greater or lesser spotted woodpeckers, are the ones to be concerned about – are scarce and locally distributed in Scotland, though they are spreading slowly North-East according to the British Trust for Ornithology. I’ve yet to see one in Fife. I’ve therefore not bothered wrapping my colonies in damp proof membrane or taken more drastic measures with yards of chicken wire and bamboo canes. Woodpeckers generally only damage hives when the weather is really cold, conditions we have yet to experience this winter. I’m also told it’s learned behaviour and, as green woodpeckers are usually resident, some apiaries can experience problems while others, just a few miles away, escape unscathed. If they are about and they have learned what easy-pickings are available in a hive you’d be advised to protect them – a woodpecker can quickly get through a cedar hive and usually targets the handholds of poly hives (often the thinnest part of the sidewall) though these are easy to repair.

Don't let them get comfortable in your hive

Don’t let them get comfortable in your hive


Chicken wire cage

Chicken wire cage …

In very cold weather green woodpeckers can cause damage to beehives when they try and get at the bees and brood. Until the temperate is below 0ºC for an extended period this usually isn’t an issue, but in a prolonged cold snap beehives can represent easy pickings for a hungry bird. I believe that this is learned behaviour and appears to vary in different areas. Around here they know that cedar, or even better poly, hives can be ransacked so these need to be protected during the winter. There are two easy ways to achieve this. One approach is to build a cage of chicken wire, supported on canes. This can be lifted away reasonably easily and ensures the hive doesn’t get too damp. However, it’s more difficult to construct and takes up more storage space during the summer. The alternative approach is to wrap the hive body in old plastic fertiliser or compost sacks. Damp proof membrane (DPM) is often available in skips and is even better as it it more robust and doesn’t get shredded in high winds.

Wrapped for winter

Wrapped for winter …

Using drawing pins I attach the DPM around the top of the brood box. Don’t fix it to the crownboard as you’ll probably have to lift this mid-winter to apply oxalic acid. If the plastic is fixed to the brood box it can usually be left in place during oxalic acid treatment. A single layer thick is sufficient … it presumably works by preventing the woodpecker perching on the side bars and breaking through. Whenever I’ve seen woodpecker damage it’s always to the sides of the brood box where the frame lugs are.

Polystyrene hives need additional protection for the roof as well. I’ve even had blue or great tits damage the roof of an overwintered Paynes nuc box. I tend to move these nucs to a sheltered spot in the garden which is rarely visited by woodpeckers, rather than leave them unattended in out apiaries. Finally, if you do use plastic, use sufficient pins to hold it securely in place in bad weather and don’t leave any gaps for Woody to get through …