Well, part of the mystery was solved today when we looked in the hives to check the bees’ honey stores. In the older hive (with the calmer bees) we found odd seed-like things we briefly (worriedly) took to be some kind of larvae. However, we quickly realized it was birdseed. So that explains what the bees were up to when they kept diving into the bird feeders…but not why. What’s the purpose of seed embedded in a wax cell? Does it break down and become a protein source? Or will the seed sprout and wreak havoc in the honeycomb?
The newer hive has built up a good supply of honey, and the population is strong…and still angry with invaders. Even in our protective bee suits it was hard not to feel a bit fearful when so many flew around—and landed on—us. The only thing to do is plow on, pulling out and examining each frame as calmly and quickly as possible.
The older hive has been making honey too, but the frames are much lighter. The population is smaller too; fewer bees to make the honey now, to keep each other warm in the cold days, and make new bees after the thaw. At the same time, the smaller population needs less food, so we hope the balance is in their favor.
We will keep putting out sugar water (from which their honey is currently being made) until winter. And in the meantime we will try to find out why the bees collected birdseed!