Growth Rings

Zero to bee geek: Spot these local bees this spring

Posted on March 10, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Your typical European honeybee. Photo by John Severns / Creative Commons.

Most of us can recognize a honeybee. But with a careful eye and a few tips from our friends at The Xerces Society, you’ll be able to spot some lesser-known but important native bees the next time you’re outside.

“Once you start seeing bees, you get pulled into it. You can spend hours sitting around and watching the bees on your plants,” says Matthew Shepherd, Communications Director at The Xerces Society.

Keep an eye out for these bees starting right now in early spring:

  • Blue Orchard Bee: You might mistake it for a house fly, but don’t take this mason bee for granted—it’s responsible for pollinating many of our spring-flowering fruit trees like apples and plums. Identify this bee by its dark metallic blue-green body that glimmers in the sun. You can build nesting boxes with holes for this and other mason bees, and you’ll see more them around your yard (and maybe get a larger fruit tree harvest).

    blue orchard bee

    It might appear to be a fly, but this is a blue orchard bee resting on an apple blossom. Photo from the Wikipedia Creative Commons / user Red58bill

  • Mining bee: You’ll find these busy pollinators on fruit tree blossoms or burrowing into your lawn where they nest (the less manicured the lawn, the better). Although they can be drably colored, they are also hugely important pollinators of fruit trees.

    Mining bee

    A mining bee returns to its nest in the grass, carrying a load of pollen on its rear legs. Photo by Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society.

  • Black-tailed bumblebee: One of the first bumblebees you’ll see this season, the black-tailed bumblebee can be identified by—wait for it—an orange rump (its last stripe is black). Like honey bees, bumblebees feed on nectar and gather pollen, but they are native to our region and nest in the ground.

    black-tailed bumblebee

    Native bumblebees are furrier, pudgier and slower than honeybees. Here a black-tailed bumblebee (yes, its rump is orange) feasts on French lavender. Photo by Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society.

  • Yellow-faced bumblebee: One of the most easily identifiable bumblebees, this species has a fat, black body, a striking yellow face and a single band of yellow on its rear.

    Yellow-faced bumblebee

    Have you seen a yellow-faced bumblebee in your neighborhood? They have a striking yellow face, black body and a single band of yellow on its rear. Photo by Kevin Cole / Creative Commons.

After several area bumblebee die-offs last summer, there’s some good news: This month Governor Kitzhaber signed into law the Save Oregon’s Pollinators Act, which will create a task force to discuss protections for pollinators from toxic insecticides. Learn more at

And for the true bee lovers, Friends of Trees is seeking five volunteers to help maintain a bee-friendly area near the Wilsonville Community Garden in partnership with the City of Wilsonville and The Xerces Society. Learn more about this volunteer opportunity








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One Response to “Zero to bee geek: Spot these local bees this spring”

  1. Be sure to submit any bumble bee sightings to xerces bumble bee citizen science page. Check it out and make your observations count at

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