Hundreds of honeybees have been swarming recently outside Cheryl Howard’s Bend home. They have taken up temporary, noisy residence in a nearby juniper tree. Their buzzing signals they are in good health, Howard said.
“It sounds like drones over my house,” she said. “It’s just the bees.”
The bees are a welcome sight for Howard, the city of Bend volunteer coordinator who oversees a community garden that relies on the tiny pollinators. In fact, everyone benefits from bees, she said.
“Our entire existence on this planet is dependent on the humble honeybee,” Howard said. “If we have no bees, nothing pollinates and nothing grows.”
Howard is one of several Bend residents who have noticed healthy honeybee hives this year. The hives are an encouraging sign since the bee population has plummeted. According to national reports, the population loss of honeybees reached 40.7% last year.
The decline is due to pesticides and habitat loss. Experts are also concerned about the arrival of the invasive Asian giant hornet, or murder hornet, that is known to destroy honeybee hives.
The hornets have been spotted in British Columbia and northern Washington, but not yet in Oregon.
Tracy Wilson, agricultural literacy coordinator for the Oregon State University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, said her office has received several calls from concerned citizens asking if the Western cicada killer wasps seen last summer were actually the murder hornets.
Cicada killers are about the same size as murder hornets — about 2-inches long — and were startling last summer when they attacked cicadas and fed them to their young. But they are not a threat to humans, unlike the murder hornets.
“These are hornets that tend to be a little more aggressive or eager to protect their nest,” Wilson said. “There is a lot more concern over this than just what we saw last year with the cicada killers.”
The biggest concern is how murder hornets destroy honeybee hives. They use their giant pinchers to behead the honeybees and slash their hives, Wilson said.
“The honeybees face enough threats as it is,” Wilson said. “We don’t need yet another invasive pest.”
For Howard, all the threats show how difficult it has been for honeybees. That is why she is thrilled to see the hive swarming outside her home.
“They are looking happy and healthy this year,” she said.
Howard plans to relocate the honeybee hive to Franklin’s Corner Community Garden at the intersection of 9th Street and Franklin Avenue in Bend. The garden, which Howard runs for the city of Bend, is safe for bees and butterflies and is never treated with pesticides.
The garden is full of native plants and grasses that will benefit from the bees, she said.
“We are not bringing in a hive with any intention to harvest the honey, but with the intention to build a really healthy ecosystem,” Howard said.
Howard, who is allergic to bee stings, said the honeybees in the hive are calm and will not be a threat to gardeners. They often get mistaken for more aggressive wasps and hornets, but they will be a peaceful addition to the garden, she said. There’s no murder in them.
“I was walking amongst the bees,” she said. “They bump up against you and say sorry.”