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Discussion Starter #1
I've been trying to modify my robbing screen, so I've been visiting my backyard hive late at night (10pm-Midnite). But for the last week I keep finding a large group of bees behind the robbing screen, in some kind of cluster. These bees are doing quite well and have a full size with 3 medium supers on top but they seem to be continuously robbed (or attempts made to rob) every afternoon, hence the screen and small hive entrance. They are quite busy bringing in pollen during the day and they have a miller feeder on top with 2:1 syrup plain which they readily consume. Weather has been warm here in southern California 90 degrees in the day today and down to 50 degrees last night. Are these left over robbers or are they fanning the hive? Is the hive to small to allow these bees in? In the day they seem normal except for the robbing, but these girls stay like this to late in the night. Ideas?
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They are doing, what I would call, "bearding".
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What does it look like inside the hive? Are all the combs occupied with bees? Is there plenty of bee bread adjacent to areas of brood? Is there much brood? If there is brood, how much brood, and at what stages of development?

In Santa Barbara, there should be good flows, right now, from many sources, various varieties of Eucalyptus should be in bloom, among other things.

It sounds to me like you have a strong, populous colony, in the midst of a California honey flow, and likely what you've identified as "robbing", is just foragers flying to harvest nectar/pollen and/or also orientation flights of young, soon-to-be foragers. If you've partially blocked their only entrance and source of ventilation, with a robber screen, that could also be complicating the situation.
 

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Why do you have the robbing screen on so early in the season? Have you had problems with other colonies nearby robbing? How many hives in your bee yard sompared to the location of other hives near by.

If you want to identify the location of a possible robbing hive you can use this trick.
Put out a sugar feeder on a table within 10 to 20 feet of your hive. One of the upside down ones will do. See if you get bees collecting from there. Then after there is a good number of bees take the feeder away, and mist with water to see where the bees fly to.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Well I went down at 5AM to see if they were still bearding and went around back to remove the tray from the SBB and they were clustered on the back of the hive as well. In the day time I'm pretty sure there are bees attempting to rob, lots of bees fighting on the front of the hive, dead bees in front, loud roaring buzz from inside the hive. My next door neighbor has a feral swarm in a trap for many months.
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This goes against conventional wisdom but my observation is that a hive that beards during spring swarm season when it isn't hot is soon to swarm.

However 90-50 IS pretty warm. They need to maintain 94 or so brood nest temp and all of those bodies produce heat. At some point some of them have to just go outside. You might just need more ventilation, just leave the tray out of the sbb. You can also put an empty box of foundation on the bottom of the stack which gives them room to hang out under instead of in the brood nest - and they will almost always go in.
 

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Are you thinking that the cluster on the front is robbers?
Here's how you can check. Right as it starts to get dark take the robber screen off and see if those bees fly to a different hive.

If they belong and they are bearding then it looks like you have enough bees to defend the hive and you could remove the screen.

Bees are always checking other hive looking for a weakness and even more during a dearth. Fighting at the entrance could be just that. Watch your entrance observe the guard bees, are they doing their job checking bees before they enter? Bees bringing in pollen are not robbers. Also look for plump bees filled with nectar hopefully they are coming in and not out.

As David said they might be preparing to swarm. That could be the loud roar. I would do a full inspection, look for and cage the queen while you inspect. And if you find swarm cells I would do a cut down split on the spot.

Are there stores in your hive?
Are you adding anything to your syrup?
Is your feeder leaking (bees on the back of the hive)?
 

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That cluster of bees on the back of the hive looks like it could be an AHB usurpation swarm. I'd check it very carefully to see if there is a queen present, in that cluster. If there is, I'd kill her, but make sure your colony has a viable queen present, first. Also, the noise coming from your hive, "loud roaring buzz", could be the sound of queenlessness. If an usurpation swarm has already infiltrated your hive, they may have already dispatched the resident queen.

Why are you feeding? You appear to have honey supers on the hive. If you feed, with honey supers on, and there is a flow, at least some of your "honey" will likely be contaminated with the feed. If you're needing to feed, you should not need honey supers. Honey supers are for after the colony is strong enough to work the flow, and for placement on the hive(s), as the flow begins. Also, feed is used in locations with actual Winter, to ensure the colonies have enough stores to take them through Winter, or periods of dearth. If there are stores in the hive, there should be no need to feed.

Again I ask >> What does it look like inside the hive? Are all the frames filled with combs, even the honey supers? Are all the combs occupied with bees? Is there honey in the combs of the honey supers? Is there plenty of bee bread adjacent to areas of brood? Are the bees bringing in pollen? Is there much brood? If there is brood, how much brood, and at what stages of development?

>In Santa Barbara, there should be good flows, right now, from many sources, various varieties of Eucalyptus should be in bloom, among other things.
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I first began keeping bees, when I was ten years old. Not far from where you are, in Los Alamos and Lompoc. There, like here, Winter is not the same as it is farther North, or at higher elevations. Our earlier Winter rains, are giving us a flow, right now, from wild rape and creosote bush. I would expect also, in Santa Barbara, that nectar and pollen are not in short supply.

 

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Robbing during the ******** Eucalyptus flow does not make any sense -- during Euc flow, bees won't even come to open feeders. Something else is going on.
1. Santa Barbara is on the AHB "front line" -- AHB unmercifully usurp hives
2. Your hive may be ready to swarm
One of my outyards on Monday:
 

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dynemd: As others have asked, what kind of population do you have in the hive? It looks to be a strong population. These "robbing attempts" during the day...are you sure you are not seeing orientation flights??? Does it happen around the same time nearly every day? Does it last 15-20 minutes? (orientation flights) Or does it go on for hours and hours until dark? (robbing) Though I can not say for sure with just seeing a couple pictures, my take would be that the hive is doing great, but the entrance and robbing screen with it's tiny entrance and exit, is hindering them from being able to fly freely, and allow easy access to the hive. I would be removing the robbing screen, open the front entrance more, and continue to observe. With a larger entrance, you may see that the 'robbing' is not robbing at all, but orientation flights. I think you need to take the pressure off the entrance/exit. Just my two cents!!

I will also ask, why are you feeding? This appears to be a well established hive, and based on your climate, I find it hard to believe you don't have a flow going on. Again, what is the population in the hive? How much of that hive are they filling?
 

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Discussion Starter #11
This hive is well populated and I added the 3rd medium because the other 2 supers were full of honey/syrup and bees. The bees come and go in a constant stream bringing in pollen. The reason I have been feeding is because the hive started very small in the late summer when I got it and right off there was a large group mid day on the front of the hive and flying around with lots of dead bees on the ground that did not resolve until evening. (I initially made the mistake of adding a lot of Honey-B-Healthy to the syrup which made the "robbing" very bad IMO). So I decreased the entrance size and later placed the robbing screen and fed plain 2:1 syrup. I keep reading on these forums about not starving your bees in winter and I admit I've probably overfed them the past 4 months (I will stop now). When out of syrup the all poke their head up through the screen of the feeder and seem upset. When I got the hive someone had started them on foundationless frames and the entire 2/3rds of the large is one tangled mess of comb so I have never examined the queen or the broodnest. The loud roaring buzz is only when there is a large group of bees congregated on the front. Since I removed the SBB tray there appear to be less bees on the front porch, but quite a few drones on the front and especially dead on the ground. I will try removing the robbing screen in the morning and will examine the entire hive Saturday. I appreciate all the comments and recommendations. Thank you!
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Bees are hoarders, and will cheerfully make huge amounts of "honey" from syrup. If you have adequate stores for winter (and you shouldn't need much in Santa Barbara, you don't really have winter there!), remove the feeder completely. Bees hauling in pollen and nectar don't need feeding, and don't need large amounts of stores, either. We need significant stores here, since it's not going to get above 40F for the next two or three weeks, and should be down to nearly zero F next week again.

Once you remove the feeder, robbing pressure should drop off. A small entrance should take care of robbers, but heed the advice about Africanzied bees. We don't have those issues here, but you very well may.

Robbers will be investigating the cracks between boxes and going around behind the hive looking for a way in. Bees that belong there will fly directly into the entrance, they know how to get in.

Oh, and bearding is normal on hives full of bees. A box of empty frames under the brood nest does wonders for keeping them inside. Helps with robbers, too since there is no honey or brood directly inside the entrance.

Peter
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Thanks for all the advice! I removed the robbing screen and explored the entire hive except for some of the tangled original foundationless frames on the lower deep box. This hive was really packed full of bees top to bottom and completely full of pollen, capped syrup/honey and with the brood stretching up into the lower medium super. Very large quantities of gentle bees (not one sting) in each and every one of the 3 mediums. I'd let the syrup run dry on the top feeder and the reservoirs where full of live bees and they had built comb up into the middle bottom bee space and inside the reservoirs from the screens on both sides. I removed the top feeder and placed another deep below the original deep on the bottom. I enlarged the entrance to 2 inches wide to compromise between efficient transit and good defense from robbing. I may enlarge the entrance further soon. Reading up on doing a split also in the next couple months as it seems like I was setting the stage for a swarm. No more bees bearding/congregating on the outside of the hive now.
 

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...I removed the top feeder and placed another deep below the original deep on the bottom...No more bees bearding/congregating on the outside of the hive now.
I was scouring this forum for clues about what to do about massive day and night bearding on one of my strong hives. Everybody was saying not to worry about bearding. The bees were just doing what they need to. But I had a few other booming hives that were not bearding. After reading the above post I decided I needed to add an empty box below the brood chamber. I told the wife I was going to get into the bees directly after work and would be skipping dinner. Got out there and long story short the hive was completely full. Top two mediums packed with honey bottom three packed with brood.

I added a box below the brood and another box on top for honey. This morning there was zero bearding. Just a small fist size group up at the entrance. All bees were inside the hive. Lesson I learned: Sometimes bees beard because there's simply no room inside the hive. Give them another box or two and they'll go inside and be able to be productive.
 
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