Bombus impatiens OR the huge buzzing bee in my leaf litter

North America is home to over 4,000 native bee species, and one non-native, well-known European Honey Bee. You may have heard about declines in Honey Bee winter survival rates, but did you know that our native bees are also in trouble? In many study areas the variety of bee species and number of bees has decreased. The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee population has declined by 87%. The Franklin’s Bumble Bee hasn’t been seen since 2003. Native bees pollinate 80% of the top 100 crops globally. Plants and pollinators develop intricate symbiotic relationships, often resulting in specific pollinators being the only creatures to be able to pollinate a specific plant. If the pollinator goes extinct, so does the plant. Causes of bee declines include habitat loss, nest parasites, diseases spread from commercial bees, and chemicals.

What can you do?

Provide lots of bee food in the form of native plants with a wide variety that bloom throughout the year. Protect bee nesting habitat by installing artificial bee boxes, leaving bare soil for ground nesting bees and leaving dead snags for tunnel nesting bees. Use fewer chemicals of all types (pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides, etc). All these chemicals are, to some degree, toxic to plants, animals and our ecosystem. The suffix “–cide” means “to kill”.

One last note word of advice. This spring as you clean out the leaf litter in your garden, pay special attention to those residents who might have overwintered safely under the leaves. Queen Bumble Bees are the only Bumble Bees which overwinter. These matriarchs emerge from their shelter in the spring to buzz off and start a new colony. Early season gardeners may be surprised by the large, loud, buzzing bee but simply move to another area of the garden and leave that section until a little later in the season. A Queen needs her beauty rest after all.

Peregrine Falcons

The other day I was asked “How far will this Peregrine Falcon that is being released back to the wild migrate?” That’s a great question without a simple answer. Migration is complex as a bird needs to know where it is now, which direction it will go and where its destination is. Bird species use different navigation tools to migrate. There are species that use the sun, species that use landmarks like coastlines and rivers, species that migrate at night and use the stars, species that use olfactory cues and species that use the Earth’s Magnetic field which they monitor with tiny grains of magnetite in their heads that act as a compass.

Peregrine Falcons are found all over the world and of the 19 different subspecies many have different migratory habits. The “tundrius” subspecies nest on the tundra and will move an astounding 15,500 miles each year to spend winters in South America. The “anatum” subspecies generally spends the winter on its breeding grounds, unless they nest in the far north. This subspecies was once common across the Eastern United States but was extirpated by DDT. Through hard work and numerous partnerships, Peregrine Falcons have been restored in much of their eastern U.S. habitats. The young female Peregrine Falcon that was released looked like she was an ‘anatum’ subspecies. A logical guess would be that she’ll make some small seasonal movements and then try to set up a nest site in the Midwest in the next year or two. As she was banded with a federal band, plus a color marked alpha band, researchers may re-encounter her in the future and we’d all find out more about the life of this fascinating bird.