How to Remove Bees From a Tree

bees in a tree

The Los Angeles Fire Department responds to the North Hollywood bee incident. Photo: LAFD.

First let’s cover how not to remove bees from a tree. My beekeeping mentor Kirk Anderson described an incident that took place this week in North Hollywood,

What happened was a HUMAN was cutting his tree down. It came down alright, with the bees that were in the tree. The bees didn’t expect or enjoy the trip to the ground. The home owner ran with the bees right after him. The bees found the neighbor’s dog and figured it was the dogs fault. The dog died of bee stings. The homeowner called 911 and the fire department came and foamed the bees. He then called a exterminator who sprayed the bees with some kind of poison. The exterminator told him he had to clean everything up because every bee with in 50 miles was coming to his backyard for breakfast in the morning. The homeowner caused this problem.

Kirk concludes by quoting George V. Higgins who said, “Life is hard. It’s harder when you are stupid.” Amen.

So how could this have been prevented?

  • Preventative tree maintenance. Hire an qualified arborist to keep your trees healthy.  A large cavity filled with bees is generally a sign of a diseased or damaged tree. The bees may be the least of your concerns. You could be looking at a large limb crashing down on your house. Judging from the news footage the tree the idiot homeowner decided to cut down himself appeared to have codominant stems. This probably caused a crack leading to disease which, in turn, led to a cavity to form. Perfect habitat for bees! This was entirely preventable with judicious pruning.
  • Leave the bees alone. If they are way up in the tree and not bothering anyone, take a chill pill.
  • Hire a beekeeper to remove the hive. What Kirk has done with tree hives is to come at night when all the bees are in their hive and wrap a screen around the entrance so they can’t get out. Next day he comes with a chainsaw and saws off the limb with the bees in it. Then he gives the log filled with bees away to someone who wants to put it in their garden.
  • Hire a beekeeper to do a “trap-out.” This is harder to do and takes at least six weeks. The beekeeper comes after dark and installs a one way exit for the bees. Next to the exit the beekeeper places a hive box with some brood comb (baby bees) in it. The worker bees leave but can’t get into their old home. They take up residence in the new box and make a new queen. If all goes well the beekeeper comes in six weeks and takes away the box. I took bees out of a kitchen vent this way and wrote about it in a blog post.
  • Know the difference between a swarm and a beehive. Swarms are how bees reproduce. Often they will land on a tree branch temporarily while they search for a permanent home (like a diseased tree). Swarms are usually harmless and will take off within a few days.
  • Lastly, if you enjoy poisoning and killing things, I suppose you can hire an exterminator. Just don’t try to do it yourself with a can of raid.

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19 Comments

  1. Urgh idiots! And the poor dog pays for their idiocy. I saw a good quote the other day which amused me and fits in with the ‘stupid’ comment in your post. I will have to paraphrase as I can’t remember where I saw it, but basically it suggested that if we wanted to reduce the stupid part of the population, we should remove all the warning labels and let the idiots kill themselves off!

  2. For a blog that advocates a diy ethic, you are pretty harsh when someone slips up. Look at it from the HUMAN’s perspective: Hey, this tree looks like it is diseased, and should be removed. I’ll cut it down, since I am self sufficient. I’ll even look up how to cut down a tree. Here we go! This is going great! I love doing things myself instead of hiring someone el….. OH MY GOD! BEES EVERYWHERE! THEY KILLED THE DOG!

    But the tips are helpful. If I ever need to remove a tree, I’ll check for bees first.

    • I understand the sentiment, but not all DIY projects are created equal and some are more likely to impact the people around you than others. DIY tree removal is almost always ill-advised in an urban/suburban setting, no matter how much googling a person does before. In this case, the neighborhood has paid the price for the homeowner’s lack of diligence.

    • Apologies if this post is overly harsh, but I have to agree with Dan. In a rural location DIY tree removal is fine. But here in LA most of us live pretty close together and the tree in the photo, forgetting the beehive for a moment, looks pretty big. Definitely a job for a pro.

      We’re also trying to get beekeeping legalized in LA and incidents like this make that effort harder.

    • It wasn’t a DIY project,

      The homeowner hired tree trimmers,

      as tree trimmers trimmed the tree,

      they happened upon a hive,

      hive went berserk, all hell broke loose,

      people ran like crazy,

      poor puppy next door got the brunt of it.

      (the bigger catastrophe luckily averted were the kids next door who were also outside at the time of the tree removal).

      Solution:

      1). Every professional tree trimmer service should be held liable when this type of accident occurs–they should know better.

      2). Public service announcements (As Mr. Homegrown mentioned re bee keepers, this is a great in for them to ply their craft/hobby/passion & to educate the masses–clue: chastising or ridicule only serves the opposite)

    • Corporal–thanks for the clarification (and for your service to our country). As you point out, one of the problems here may be hiring cheap, uninsured tree trimming services. Too common here in LA. People need to spend a little extra money for an arborist. They will save money in the long run.

    • No need for thanks: “Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily.” ~ Robert Heinlein

      As for cheap labor, Mexican or Samoans knocking on your door, free lancing, whether it be yard work, tree removal, concrete work, most of the time they do good work. And it’s hard to pass up a good deal, when most contractors will take your arm and leg.

      I hope bee keepers will do more public education on this, this seems like a simple fix–I just don’t like the whole “stupid humans” theme,

      it was an accident, step up and educate, contact city reps, KTLA, KCET, youtube videos of best practice/lessons learned, etc.

    • Good point. I think Kirk, my bee guru, was on the news that night to comment on what happened. I didn’t get to see it though.

  3. I’m really surprised that the bees were angry enough to go after the dog. Maybe I’ve have only lazy, live-and-let-live bees in my hives. Could they possibly have been Aficanized bees? Do you have ABs in L.A.? They’re more aggressive and don’t forget or forgive transgressions like cutting down their tree.

    • I need to do a post on this. There’s a lot of misinformation on “African” bees. Yes there are African genetics in our local bees. This does not mean that they are overly aggressive. In my cranky opinion the “African” label is thrown around to sell pesticides and bad beekeeping practices like requeening and ordering artificially inseminated bees from up north. I’d be willing to bet that there are just as many angry European hives as there are feral Southern California hives. If you were to cut down a tree with a large hive of purebred Italian bees they might have had the same reaction.

    • I just reread my comment and I have to apologize for the bad grammar and spelling. I really was much too tired this morning to be writing anything for publication.

      And to Mrs. Homegrown: we here in the cold, snowy North are always ordering bees from some warmer clime. Hmmmm . . . maybe there’s some sort of transfer of wealth going on here.

  4. That is one huge mess. Poor dog. I think DIY is great but doing it yourself should also be paired with some caution and commonsense. Think, humans. Some people are very ingenious and use gasoline to start a fire. Stupid human.

  5. Very interesting post. As a tree nerd with a few qualifications… When I saw the photo and the proximity to the house and power lines of this large tree I knew this had to be a pro job if the story was not about someone being killed removing a tree.

    Even if an arborist (generic term), ISA certified arborist is a better standard as it requires a test and CEUs, was on site- if the bees didn’t come out until this point in the removal they were probably not noticed so when they did come out chances are very good things happened quickly. Seriously bad about the dog but lucky on the kids.

    The important thing too is although codominant branches can potentially be bad, codominant branches with -included bark- are the important thing to watch for (the cut on the upper right shows there was a branch union above with included bark. The branch union between the upper 2 stems appears sound while the lowest branch appears to have a moderate inclusion.

  6. Wouldn’t it be great if the LAFD had a few experts in hive removal so they could handle the situation properly. Kirk should be hired to train a few!

  7. I have a baldface hornet nest the size of a basket ball about 50 feet up in the tree. Ive called pros and they dont have the tools for the job. These hornets have saved my tree by killing the beetles which im grateful but i have been to the er over a sting that went systemic and about killed me. i need them gone but i know just shooting them down will just make them rebuild somewhere. any suggestions to geting them from 50 feet

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