Birds, Berries & Bees

5 08 2010

I spoil our chickens.

I mean, we only have three of them and the idea of our own egg-producing poultry is still novel so I try to keep them fat and happy. Plus they’re such fun to watch, even if we haven’t seen egg #1 yet.

Learning as we go, we have discovered that these clucking cretins will eat just about anything that gets within range of their little beaks. Throw them a grape and it’s like watching little kids play soccer as they steal the tasty morsel from one another and scurry off to another corner of the coop.

So with that in mind, I have discovered that they just love the little pin cherries from the tree on the other side of our backyard. I’ll walk over, grab a few of the low hangers and feed them to the eager hens.

Anyhow, today I’m trucking back and forth waiting wing and talon on these feathered fanatics when all of a sudden I feel this SMACK! on my forehead, right between the eyes. Sonofagun, that hurt! I couldn’t tell if it was a bug that flew into me or if I got pranged by a hummingbird. So I truck over to the coop, swatting away whatever it was buzzing around, feed the girls, turn around and see the source of my discomfort:

Yes, that is a bald-faced hornet’s nest the size of a soccer ball hanging about 6 feet over the backyard that I have been blissfully walking under for the past God knows how long.

So being the curious sort I am, I did some quick research:

Bald faced hornets are actually yellow jackets. Like most bees, their colony consists of a fertile queen, male drones who hang out in the nest and don’t sting and female workers who build the nest from chewed up vegetable materials, bring home food and fiercely protect the nest. When the autumn starts waning, fertile queens will hatch and hibernate. The rest of the colony perishes and the nest is abandoned. They are carnivorous – they eat other bugs versus pollinating plants. They can sting repeatedly and will swarm to battle interlopers. Their sting can be quite painful as it is designed as a means of killing prey, not a suicidal defense mechanism like other bees. Going after them after dusk is risky as they will come out at night and can follow light sources.

Why this particular bunch couldn’t have built their nest, say, 30 feet up one of our trees instead of right overhead escapes me but nonetheless this little oversight in their zoning research has cost them dearly.

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