Providing Nest Sites for Pollinators

Bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects need access to safe places to nest, lay eggs, and raise their young. Insects also need sheltered, undisturbed places to hibernate and overwinter. The easiest way to provide these nesting resources is by benign neglect and by recognizing, protecting, or adding to the resources already available.

Types of Nests and Sites

Ground Nests

Most of North America’s native bee species (about 70%) are solitary ground nesters. Their nests look similar to ant holes from above. Leave some semi-bare ground to provide nesting sites for these bees. Avoid disturbance to these sites, including mulching and tilling.

Wood Tunnel Nests

Approximately 30% of native bees in North America nest in wood tunnels. Leaving beetle-riddled snags and providing plants with pithy stems can provide nesting habitat for mason and leafcutter bees.

You can also choose to build and maintain artificial nests for native bees. Download the fact sheets or book below for more information on creating artificial nests for native bees.

Other Nest Sites

Brush piles, rock piles, bunch grasses, and old rodent burrows can provide valuable nesting opportunities for bumble bees and beneficial insects, as well as providing safe places for insects to overwinter and hibernate.

Butterfly Host Plants

Make your pollinator garden into a butterfly garden by adding the host plants for butterflies in your region. Milkweed is the host plant for Monarch butterflies and also provides nectar for bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects.

Taking Next Steps

Nests for Native Bees

A resource that describes techniques used to make nests for native bees. Read more.

Tunnel Nest Construction and Management

Guidelines on the construction and maintenance of nest sites for tunnel nesting native bees. Read more.

Managing Alternative Pollinators

Managing Alternative Pollinators: A Handbook for Beekeepers, Growers, and Conservationists is a publication by the SARE. It is the first full color step-by-step guide for rearing and managing bumblebees, mason bees, leafcutter bees, and other honey bee pollinator alternatives. The Handbook provides in-depth information on nest construction, parasite and disease management, habitat conservation, IPM for beekeepers, and avoiding pesticide poisoning. Read more.

Attracting Native Pollinators

Xerces’ most recent book, Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies, is available to purchase from our website. The book is published in 2011 by Storey Publishing, North Adams, Massachusetts. Attracting Native Pollinators is coauthored by four Xerces Society staff members Eric Mader, Matthew Shepherd, Mace Vaughan, and Scott Black in collaboration with Gretchen LeBuhn, San Francisco State University. Read more.


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Long horned bee (Melissodes sp.) on sunflower by Mace Vaughan. Mining bee ground nests by Matthew Shepherd. Bee emerging from ground nest by Rollin Coville. Snag with tunnels by Don Keirstead. Tunnel nest in pithy stem by Nancy Adamson. Brush pile by Mike Rudecki, Cardno JFNew. Bunch grasses by Jessa Guisse. Monarch caterpillar by William M. Ciesla, Butterfly nectaring on milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) by John Anderson. Pollinator sign in sunflowers by Celeste Ets-Hokin. Pollinator garden by Eric Mader.