Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Which bees should we save? All of them ...

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In the Aug. 25 Naturewatch, I ran a question from a vestry member of St. Stephen's Church in Pittsfield about saving ground-nesting bees from destruction. My answer was to erect a crude wire fence around the nest. My advice was heeded and improved with a white decorative fence that is working perfectly.

Readers of that particular column had the following two questions:

Q: Why all the interest in ground bees? I suppose they might be bumblebees?

— Suzanne, Pittsfield

A: There is so much to learn ... and I have much learning to do! Each pollinator has a role to fill. I have noticed bumblebees are able to fly in cooler temperatures and see them before other bees become active on cool mornings and get to work before the sun is fully up and that is before many other bees. Bumblebees also have a habit of holding on to a flower and vibrate their wings. It's called "buzz pollination." This apparently dislodges pollen from the flower that pollinates tomatoes and peppers.

As they go about gathering pollen and pollinating flowers, they pay far less attention to visitors. Few will bother onlookers. The following question and answer will also answer your question.

For more information, including how to participate in our citizen science efforts to help conserve bumble bees, visit

Q: Don't the honeybees do most of the pollinating? I read there has been a big loss of them, shouldn't they be the ones to protect?

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— Reader, Lenox

A: I can't say what the percentage of crops are pollinated by honeybees, but they are so important that hives are moved from farm to farm to help with pollination of major crops. Not all that long ago I wouldn't have been concerned, but recent research into pollinators has brought me into the present century; all pollinators are valuable. And it isn't only bees the pollinate. From we learn: "Birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and small mammals that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food. They also sustain our ecosystems and produce our natural resources by helping plants reproduce. Without the actions of pollinators agricultural economies, our food supply, and surrounding landscapes would collapse."

And all of these, not just honeybees are harmed by changes in land usage (parking lots instead of meadows, and farming changes, with farmers using herbicides rather than mowing weeds, for instance), chemical runoff, changes in weather patterns, global warming, pesticide and before-mentioned herbicide use.

Study after study finds different reasons for honeybee hive collapse with eventual loss of hive after hive. In 2016, a study by Geoff Williams, an entomologist at Auburn University and his team published in the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society, showed that neonicotinoids, the world's most common class of agricultural pesticide, may act as a bee contraceptive. Frightening if true.


While arranging the shed I came across a bird feeder full of peanuts I thought I would save for the return of wintering feeder birds, and without any thought, hung it from a nearby potted plant. Before I finished straightening out the shed, I heard something that told me a bird had already found it. Sneaking a peek, I saw black-capped chickadees and a downy woodpecker, first taking turns and moments later both, pecking away together.

That doesn't mean I endorse keeping feeders up all year or putting them out before December unless you are positive bears will be no problem. That is the main reason besides needless expense. The adage "Feeding summer birds will delay their leaving for southern climes" is false.

It is a misconception that if there is plenty of food they won't bother to leave. Length of daylight, and instinct are the birds signal to migrate. Climate also plays a part.

Feeding may help them along in the event of a rare October snowstorm. Remember it takes a lot of calories to fly hundreds or thousands of miles. That said, this discussion is valid only for birds that are primarily seed eaters or birds that are insect eaters that have adapted to suet.


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