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Birds and bees build home in church column

Springtime brings out the birds and the bees and sometimes, they make their homes in unlikely places

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Church may not be the place you'd think to learn a lesson about the birds and the bees.

But for one congregation, they are learning that both creatures like to make homes in unlikely places — the columns of their building.

At Bookwalter United Methodist Church, bees have been buzzing in and out of a column for more than 10 years. Meanwhile, starlings have built nests in the other columns nearby.

"Probably 60,000 bees up there," Beekeeper Gary Anthony estimated. He and his team came out to safely remove both. It was an all-day project to remove the bees.

"They do take a while," beekeeper Paige Murphy explained. "This one is going to be longer because there are so many and it's so old and they are very aggressive." 

Credit: wbir
Gary Anthony works to remove pieces of the hive from the church column.

The beekeeping team is geared up, head-to-toe, in protective gear. The gear is all white because bees don't like dark colors.

"I have my gloves that come all the way up to my elbow, my suit, the helmet, we are all zipped up," Murphy described. "Sometimes you have to duct tape the pants and gloves so they don't get in there because they are sneaky, so we are all covered."

And the job takes them to new heights. The team had to use a riser machine to get to the top of the columns and start the removal.

Credit: wbir
Bees and birds have made homes in the columns at Bookwalter United Methodist Chruch.

"First you cut in there and see how deep it is and how high up they are; then you smoke them so they are calm," Murphy said. "Then you vacuum them out but they get angry with the noise and vibrations."

While most of the column is made from wood, the part where the bees and birds are living is tough plaster.

"They just have a little tiny hole to get into," Anthony explained. 

A deteriorating building can make a perfect spot for bees and birds alike. It's something that homeowners and business owners should stay on the lookout for. 

Credit: wbir
Honeycomb inside the columns.

"That's one thing people don't realize — maintenance is important," Anthony said. "There's evidence there was water that caused the deterioration, made a weak spot, and a bird started pecking on it."

Often, insects will start crawling around the damaged spots which brings out woodpeckers. They may start working away at the tough material to get to the insects. Once a hole is made, even a small one, the bees can come in.

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Anthony has been doing removals for years and has never had one at a church, but says today's assignment is very sweet.

"My pastor was buried here and his granddaughter, Paige, is helping me with this bee project," Anthony said.

The bees will be safely relocated to a new area where they can thrive happily, without interfering during church service.

"My Papaw was into beekeeping and when he passed away, Gary has helped me," Murphy said. "My papaw is buried at Bookwalter Cemetery just up the road, so this is neat for me to be first bee removal right where my papaw is."

Credit: wbir
Bees on top of brood box ready for transport to their new home.

As for the birds, there were no eggs. The holes will be filled up, so the birds will know it's time to find another place to build a nest.

"They like to nest wherever they can make a hole, they love columns, church columns," Anthony said. "They must be kind of churchy."

It's important that if someone has bees in their home or business, that they don't call an exterminator. It is against the law to destroy honeybees.

Instead, they can contact the Knox County Beekeepers Association for guidance.