Gardening / Insights

“Meals on Wheels” for a bumblebee: A short nature film and story

Bumblebee rests on a finger

The sun was shining but the damp breeze felt like ice cubes rubbing my cheeks. A typical spring morning in coastal Alaska. But this morning would not be typical. A surprise was waiting… My feet stopped at a cluster of striped crocus flowers, just starting to open. I leaned over for a closer look. What’s this? A bumblebee inside? Her fuzzy coat, bands of gold, brick red, and black, contrasted beautifully against the crocus’ purple and white stripes.

Morning has broken

She wasn’t moving. I could only assume — from my meager, citizen-scientist research — that she probably spent the night, cozily wrapped in a flower petal sleeping bag. The morning was cool (had just broken, to paraphrase Cat Stevens), and so was the bee. There would be no flying until her flight muscles warmed up to a magical minimum of 86 degrees F.

For that to happen, she needed food. More on that in a moment.

Curious about this flying ball of fuzz’s welfare, over the next few hours, I found excuses to step away from my computer to check on her.

Eventually, the crocus flower opened wide, like a baby bird waiting for the worm. And the bee had departed.

Which meant, all was well.

Bumblebee resting on a red dahlia flower

Bumblebees, when caught outside, will often seek refuge in flowers. Why are they hiding? When they emerge from their winter den, they are homeless for a couple of weeks as they look for a nesting site to raise a new brood. Meanwhile, they must hide from spiders, mice, birds. Yikes! (Marion Owen photo)

Fast forward a year.

It’s April. Our winter was cold and snowy, delaying spring and the greening up of salmonberry bushes and the appearance of flowers.

Critical calories, protein, and carbs.

Keen on finding bees tucked inside flowers, I’ve adopted a spring ritual:

  • Grab coffee
  • Go outside
  • Look for slugs and bumblebees tucked inside flowers

“Just living is not enough,” said the bumblebee.

What’s inside? 

One morning, I spotted a tiny, square hole on top of a white crocus flower where the petals had opened slightly. I peered inside. A bee!

I gathered my camera equipment and set up a tripod to take a series of time-lapse photos, which I include in my movie below.

After three hours, the bee had emerged from the crocus and plopped onto the ground below. Thing was, she didn’t move.

Was she resting?

Surely she was hungry.

Bumblebee food to go

I dashed to the house, made a beeline to the fridge (sorry Marty, for tracking dirt onto the floor), and grabbed the jar of sugar-water syrup I’d made the day before.

To prepare the serving plate (a small pill bottle cap) I drizzled a couple of tablespoons of the sweet liquid into the bottom. Then I placed two pebbles in the pool. (You’ll understand the purpose of the pebbles in the movie).

I returned to the bumblebee, still immobile on a bed of dried leaves and grass, and placed the bottle cap on the ground in front of her.

What happens next is something you’ll have to see for yourself in my 2-minute movie:

Why I blogged this

Which brings me to something you need to know. Bumblebees are important pollinators of wildflowers and many of our food crops. But bumblebee populations are plummeting. Loss of habitat and food sources, the presence of chemical herbicides and fertilizers, non-native pests and diseases, and GMO plants. That said, please know that you can help.

I’m not asking you to make batches of sugar-water. Though supplementing an early bumblebees’ diet would be much appreciated.

One thing you can do is to hold off mowing down dandelions. At least for a little while. Dandelions might be a queen bumblebee’s first real meal in many months.

And look into the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, set up in England. The webpage, How You Can Help Bumblebees looks a little dated, but it contains good tips.

Back to my bumblebee…

As you’ll see in the film, she pulled hard on the sweet liquid. After a couple of minutes, her abdomen began to flex, a sign that her body temperature was rising. Then, her whole body trembled.

She raised her head, stepped off the rocks, and gave me the best gift ever.

She flew away.

I started to cry

Right then and there. In front of God, the neighbors, and the chickadees sitting in the cherry tree.

It was a mixed cry. That’s the best way to describe it.

I shook with tears of joy and gratitude.

I cried happy tears for the privilege of witnessing.

And sad tears for Mother Nature, suffering so from pollution and well, our collective human errors.

I cried prayerful and hopeful tears, too.

Thanks for reading and watching.

Blessings and love,

P.S. Please do me a favor and post a review on the Vimeo page that hosts my video. And share with others. Together we can help others appreciate the little things in nature that mean so much.

Cat Stevens — Morning Has Broken — Music Video on YouTube

Morning Has Broken

By Cat Stevens

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew fall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass

Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the One Light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word


  • Barbara Kennedy
    June 6, 2020 at 11:42 PM

    What a joy you are!


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