Any ideas on how we can safely remove bees from a topless tree?

Q: Got a phone call today (late July) from a woman with a HUGE topless tree with a beehive inside. The top blew off years ago and the tree now looks precarious, so they’ve decided to have it removed. The tree is between two homes with not much clearance on either side so the tree removal company must chainsaw sections and lift them out with a crane. They refuse to touch the tree until the bees are dead, or it is winter so the bees won’t be active.

Unless I can come up with a way to get the bees out now, the tree company will tackle it in the winter (and the bees will likely die.) Ideas on how we can remove them safely first? And any tips on capturing a hive from a tree?

A: We turned to Cleo Hogan, inventor of the Swarm Harvester and all around bee expert, for his thoughts. He noted that there aren’t a lot of good options, and that “Twenty feet up is too high to safely trap, and it is too late in the year to trap them out, as that can take weeks.”

He added, “I have never known bees to be bad when a tree is being cut down with a chain saw. The smoke from the chain saw is the same as smoke from a smoker. I would try to supply the tree company workers with veils and gloves and cut the tree now. Then remove the bees, carry off the comb and honey and let the tree people do the rest.

Smoking before they cut is not really necessary, but does not hurt either. It would force lots of bees out of the tree and out of harm’s way when the tree falls.

Don’t block the entrance to keep bees in the tree. If you do, more bees will be killed when the tree hits the ground, or die from being drenched in honey when the comb breaks up.
Your probability of finding the queen is low. It is most important to remove all wood which has the smell of the hive, all honey, and all brood from the area. Have a hive with two or three drawn combs, grab handfuls of bees, shake them off the pieces of wood and place them in the hive. If you can find a little comb with brood on it, place it in the hive, (you can tie it to a frame or just set it on the bottom board inside the hive) and once all residue of their colony has been removed, the bees will go into the hive and the queen will follow. It is important to watch because if the queen does not like the hive, she will take the bees and leave, normally settling very close to the area, and then you handle it just like capturing any swarm.

Very important to keep watch and see if you got the queen. It will soon be getting late to buy a queen if the feral queen is killed or you don’t get her. You might have to give them a frame or two of honey from another hive to get them through the winter.”

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