Two key things to know straight away: swarms are docile and passive, especially in the first couple of days. So don’t worry, if you just look at them respectfully they will not sting you, and you can get quite close as well. Second, swarms are both vulnerable and valuable. They are a strong, harmoniously bonded bee colony and yet have only a few days to find a good home. We at the Urban Bee Project in Seattle, are most happy to collect a swarm from your yard. Call Lauren at 206-790-0464 if you see a swarm in the Seattle area. If you are outside of Seattle, call your local beekeepers association and they will give you someone to contact to collect it.
It is a lucky day when you get to see a swarm of honeybees. It will look something like this once it has coalesced on a branch or other object.
A swarm occurs when a colony is strong and healthy, and is like an offspring of the parent colony. Swarms are how bee colonies reproduce themselves. The swarm consists of the old queen and about 1/3 or so of the workers. They gorge on honey on the morning of the swarm, and are docile and passive for the first couple of days. The swarm sends scouts out to look for a new home, and watches and feels their waggle dance language to learn about their findings. More recruits go out to check out likely sites, and at some point, a decision is reached and the whole swarm takes off to the new location.
However, many swarms don’t make it, either they don’t find a home and starve or they perish in a storm or bad weather. So, if you see a swarm, take the time to make a call.