Bees swarm tree above Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago

A swarm of bees landed in an unlikely place, and it had the Chicago Loop buzzing more than usual on Thursday.

While searching for a new home, thousands of honeybees made themselves –and their queen – comfortable at Daley Plaza.

"With a swarm of that size, we know the queen is there with the rest of the colony that has traveled with her," said Naaman Gambill, owner, The Hive Supply. "They’re what’s called scout bees, so they’re basically looking for new homes that they can move to."

By Thursday afternoon, the bees had collected on a tree branch and the sight had busy Chicagoans stopping to look up.

"It’s kind of cool, a little bit scary," said Azeez Syed, passerby.


It took hours before a team of beekeepers could safely collect the swarm – mainly, because of how high they were resting.

"Is that a whole thing that’s hanging, is that all bees up there?" asked Frances Smith. "Oh my God."

In an elongated mass, thousands of honeybees were protecting their queen.

"What you’re witnessing right there is how a honeybee hive reproduces," said Allen Lawrance, associate curator of entomology, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. "What happens is, usually in the spring, when a colony reaches a certain size and is a little bit too crowded, the workers will decide they want to make some new queens."

Experts said the bees were in a docile state and weren’t a threat to the public.

"The queen is producing swarming pheromones, and this prevents them from being aggressive," said Lawrance.

By mid-afternoon, however, the bees encountered a slight disruption.

It was caused by a flock of pigeons that took off abruptly and returned – causing quite the stir among the worker bees.

The swarm hovered for several minutes, before relocating at the very top of the tree.

"We were in the neighborhood, decided to come check it out," said Gambill.

Beekeeper and owner of The Hive Supply, Gambill came with a plan.

It took several hours before he and Daley Plaza officials could get a bucket truck on-site, but by early evening, the process of retrieving the bees had begun.

Gambill – a veteran, who didn't even use a bee suit – was lifted up top where slowly and carefully removed clumps of bees.

"As long as we have the queen, the rest of the colony knows they need that queen, they’ll stay with her," said Gambill.

They're now in a new hive, where they can thrive.

The plan is to support the conservation of honeybee populations.

"It’s estimated that they provide a third of every bite we take," said Gambill. "We have such a beautiful city that has so much bio-diversity, bees are things that we need to promote and protect."

On his way down, Gambill found a second, smaller swarm that he also retrieved.

The larger swarm became so popular, one of the beekeepers on-site dubbed it "Bee-Casso" – after Daley Plaza's ‘Picasso.’

Gambill said he will be giving the hives to Sweet Beginnings – an organization that offers transitional jobs to individuals returning from incarceration. It manages bee farms throughout Chicagoland, including in North Lawndale.

Sweet Beginnings was scheduled to retrieve the bees from Daley Plaza on Friday morning, but since Gambill and his team arrived Thursday, they offered a helping hand by collecting the honeybees for them. 

This isn't the first time a swarm of honeybees has made a home in downtown. 

Hundreds of bees gathered on a bike near Millennium Park a few years back – making for a tough commute home after work for one Chicagoan.