I gave a Zoom lecture last night on why people should care about native bees, and promised the audience (friends of Belmont Hills Library, in Bala Cynwyd, PA) that I’d share some links, photographs, and answers to some of the questions at the end. If you have any lingering questions or thoughts, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Good luck attracting bees, and thanks again for the invitation.
Here are some of the pics I’ve taken at bee hotels over the past several years. Sharing in case other beekeepers might recognize residents in their own hotels. There were bees, as one would expect, but also wasps, flies, and beetles.
Horn-faced mason bee (Osmia cornifrons). Very common at my hotels. Introduced from Asia in the 1970s. Details at BugGuide.
Giant resin bee (Megachile sculpturalis). Yes, also introduced, though more recently (~1994). Details at BugGuide.
Mock-orange scissor bee (Chelostoma philadelphi). So named because it prefers to collect pollen from trees in the genus Philadelphus (mock oranges). This is the only native member of the genus in the United States. Details at BugGuide.
Ancistrocerus antilope has shown up a few times at my hotels, but apparently prefers to nest in sumac and elder stems. It also is reported to use old mud-dauber nests. They are fun to watch because they provision nests with caterpillars. Details at BugGuide.
This is Euodynerus “Species F” at the moment. I.e., it’s one of several undescribed species in the genus (details here). Its biology is apparently unknown, so I’m hoping to get more of them in the future.
Parancistrocerus histrio is another wasp that feeds caterpillars to its brood. Details at BugGuide.
Auplopus mellipes provisions its nests with spiders. For a wonderful overview of their biology, please see post on Eric Eaton’s blog. (While there, I noticed he has a new book on wasps.)
Euodynerus schwarzi provisions nests with caterpillars. For identification tips, see blurb by Matthias Buck et al.; more pics are at BugGuide.
Euodynerus megaera is extremely similar to the above species but has black tibiae. At least females do (males are much harder to distinguish). It’s also a collector of caterpillars. More details by Buck et al.
Brown-legged grass-carrying wasp (Isodontia auripes) provision their nests with tree crickets. As their name suggests, they also carry grass, which they use to pack and seal the brood chamber. Details on BugGuide.
Here’s a photo of the grass-carrying wasp’s nesting plug that I took at Longwood Gardens. They have a beautiful bee hotel with hundreds of cells but as far as I could tell, only a few wasps had moved in.
Trypoxylon collinum provision their nests with spiders. Unlike many wasps and bees, the males in this genus actually help out around the nest. For details, please see this Instagram post. BugGuide has a page for the species but it contains little information.
Cuckoo wasp (Chrysis sp.). They are absolutely adorable. That said, they are also parasites of the above bees and wasps that are nesting at the hotel. They are very difficult to identify, so even getting them down to genus is rare. Here’s BugGuide’s page on the family.
The club-horned cuckoo wasp (Sapyga louisi) is another frequent parasitic wasp at my hotels. This one is patiently waiting to gain entrance to the nest of a mock-orange scissor bee. Details on BugGuide.
Leucospis affinis is another parasitic wasp that is almost always lurking around my bee hotel. It’s oddly variable in size. More details by Ari Grele at Insects of Cornell, at BugEric, and BugGuide.
Monodontomerus sp. (in Chalcidoidea) are extremely common parasites of mason bees. Please see this post at Nurturing Nature for great video and description of their life cycle. Additional details at BugGuide.
Digonogastra sp. These braconid wasps are parasites, but I’m not positive the ones I’ve seen at my bee hotels are targeting any of the residents. But they’ve shown up on at least two occasions so I think it’s a possibility.
Amobia sp. are flesh flies that develop on the provisions inside (for example) Trypoxylon nests. I’m not sure whether the larvae also eat the wasp larvae, but I’d suspect so. Details at BugGuide.
Houdini flies (Cacoxenus indagator) are newly introduced to the United States and are likely to ravage mason bee nests and the crops that depend on them for pollination. If you have bee hotel, this fly is reason #1 why you should use removable paper tubes that allow sorting of infested and uninfested brood cells. Without paper tubes your bee hotel will likely be a Houdini fly hotel. Crown Bees has information on how to clean your tubes.
Skin beetles (Dermestidae) are scavengers but can become serious pests of uncleaned mason bee hotels. Yet another reason to use only paper tubes fitted inside drilled holes, combined with a thorough cleaning of entire hotel (e.g., soak in bleach, scrub). Details on skin beetles at BugGuide.
The above is probably less than 1% of the species that might be found at a bee hotel that had a range of nesting-hole diameters. Noticeably absent are leaf-cutter bees, so that’s my photo resolution for 2021.
Pics of my chicken coop in case useful to others who are building their own. It has a sunflower theme because I used an old mural for the exterior.
The primary feature is a large, south-facing window on the front that provides solar gain during the winter, but hinged to provide ventilation, too. Opening is covered with heavy wire (to exclude raccoons) and screening (to exclude mosquitoes).
Additional ventilation is provided by a hinged panel at the top. This will be open even during the winter unless temperatures get shockingly low. Opening is covered with hardware cloth and mosquito screening.
I’ve opted for a platform at the pop door so the chickens can more gracefully go in and out. They really like to just rest on the platform.
Pop door is opened and closed by an Add-A-Motor controlled with a Wemo smart plug. The Wemo needs to be configured with two separate routines; one to open, and one to close (like this). Here’s a video of the door opening in the morning, followed by a video of chickens using it. The motor is a tad loud but that’s useful in alerting the chickens.
Nesting boxes are accessible on the outside of the coop so that I don’t need to disturb the flock to do an egg check. Lid can be hooked to chain above if there are a lot of eggs to collect. The hinged side is protected from rain with a rubber gasket made out of an old bicycle tire. Lid and nesting boxes are all insulated so that frozen eggs are less of a concern.
Here’s the view inside the coop. The chickens get to the nesting boxes and perch via a ramp with cleats spaced every 3″. Then there’s a short hop (or optional ramp trip) to the perch. Underneath the perch is a droppings pit that gets filled with granulated clinoptilolite (“PDZ”) to absorb ammonia. Floor of coop is covered in pine shavings. Wood is left unpainted mainly because I’m lazy, but also because if I went with the traditional white it would always look dirty. I did, however, treat the perch with linseed oil, then sprayed it with permethrin (to kill mites).
This photograph shows the small ramp that comes up from the nesting box landing. It’s likely unnecessary but the chickens do use it, so it will stay. It’s screwed down but can be easily repositioned if needed.
I eventually added a loft, too, so that chickens can choose between two perch locations. The upper platform also has a lip to contain the Sweet PDZ (so that droppings are scoopable). Perch is easily removed to make the scooping easy. Below is a video of the chickens exploring the loft after I installed it. Don’t worry, they now navigate the hop far more gracefully.
Next is a close-up of the nesting boxes, positioned below the level of the perch so that they don’t hang out. I have an old pillowcase (see above video) that tacks onto the boards to give them privacy in the nests.
Underneath the ramp is a wood box filled with moss, sand, and dried mint. The chickens will likely never use this but it was fun to provide. It’s large enough for four chickens at once, I think.
Lighting inside the coop is provided by smartphone-controlled LEDs (Philips hue shape light). Lights come on automatically (but slowly, over 30 minutes) in the morning for several hours, then again in the evening to provide 15-hour days. I’ve set mine to red to minimize aggression among hens and to increase egg production (per research). Red lighting is also less polluting for humans due to our reduced reliance on that part of the spectrum.
To spy on my chickens I’ve installed a Wyze (v2) video camera equipped with a 64Gb microSD card. Here’s a still showing birds on perch. I have a second cam trained lower level so that I can monitor the pop door and the water status.
To monitor the temperature and humidity in the coop I’ve added a SensorPush, configured to send me phone alerts if temperature gets too low or too high. I can also set humidity alarms. I purchased the SensorPush G1 Gateway, too, so that I could access the data even when I’m away from home (normal version is Bluetooth-only). Overkill, surely, but fun.
I was worried about condensation (from moist air hitting a cold ceiling) so I added reflective bubble insulation. The walls are filled with fiberglass insulation so I don’t think the winter will be a problem, especially in Philadelphia and especially given global warming. Plus the chicken breeds I currently have (Golden Laced Wyandotte, Blue Easter Egger) are large and cold-tolerant. With my current setup I could likely raise Silkies.
The insulation seems to work. During the December 15-17 nor’easter (pic below), outside temperature fell to 24 °F; inside dipped to only 31.8 °F. It’s not just the insulation, of course — the chickens generate heat (10 W each, I think), plus the thermal gain during the day is retained in the pure mass of the structure (wood, nails, screws, etc.). If I felt the cold would be a problem I’d also attach plastic film to the window.
For all the lights and gadgets, power is delivered via an extension cord fitted with a GFCI splitter. I decided on getting one of these after a near-death experience with a faulty router.
The coop is situated inside my former berry garden that featured chicken wire to protect fruit from birds and squirrels. To convert it for chickens I added a layer of 2×3″ fencing to all surfaces, plus buried hardware cloth along the perimeter. I also added approximately 15″ of hardware cloth on the lower part of the structure to prevent raccoons from reaching in and grabbing a chicken, which apparently they like to do. Something could, conceivably, tunnel into the coop from several feet away, avoiding the buried screening, so I still patrol it daily in case a hole has been started. Small birds (wrens) still come in to steal food, though, and if I’d had to build a run from scratch I would have opted for 100% hardware cloth.
Tips for building a chicken coop
Tour local chicken coops for inspiration before you do anything else. You can’t do this online … pinning hundreds of ideas to your Pinterest boards simply poisons the brain and you really need to see actual coops and talk to actual chicken people who, surprise, know things.
Join or create a local Facebook or Nextdoor group that traffics in free things. I got window, door, and almost all the lumber free. People have things sitting around and you really just need to ask. There’s absolutely no reason why chickens will care if things don’t match or are broken in some way.
Start collecting materials months in advance so you can plan your coop before you start building. E.g., don’t finalize your framing plans until you know the dimensions of your windows and doors.
If you can find a cheap or free shed, do it. Moving a shed and converting it to a chicken coop is infinitely easier and cheaper than building your own. I enjoyed building mine from scratch but it took a long time given I didn’t know what I was doing.
Equip the inside with removable ramps and perches so that you can fix your building mistakes. Similarly, opt for screws instead of nails. Then you can watch the chickens on a security camera for a week or so and then reconfigure items. I.e., perhaps your ramp needs more cleats — easier to just pull it out and take it to the shop for that mod.
Finish your coop before ordering chickens. It’s going to take longer to build than you think.