ARTISTS AND BIRDS
by Marilyn and Keith Davis
Paper Wasps vs Woodpeckers
My honey has always had a thing about Paper Wasps and their huge nests, because as kids, his brothers and cousins seemed to attract these Wasps along with their stingers, like a magnet. Paper Wasp nests can get as large as a basketball in the right conditions, so naturally he always wanted a nest of his own. The conditions Wasps need to build nests are a readily supply of water, trees, and even old wooden buildings. The Wasp uses wood as a building material. They will scrape the sides of trees, or old weathered boards and munch up the wood, add their own saliva, and behold, out comes a gray paper construction material. In cold climates, new nests are built from scratch by Paper Wasps every year. A lone queen starts laying eggs and by fall her offspring have a huge nest hanging from a tree branch or the eves of a house.
The nests are an absolute marvel of engineering, being well insulated with many layers of paper to withstand heavy rains, gale-like winds, and summer heat. By the time winter hits, a new group of queens have been raised, which then leave the nest and winter over - hiding in your attic, under tree bark, or deep in the leaf litter of the forest.
We were in Salt Lake this winter driving through an area where farms had been leveled for business expansion. Next to the road, one abandoned farm house was still standing as well as its original trees and shrubs. I’m sure it had been there for many years, but that would change, as a new road was coming right through it. My honey has been a long time hunter and now birder, so his eyesight is keen. Honey spotted a huge Paper Wasp nest by the old house, hanging from a tree branch twenty feet from the road we were traveling on. Well, he started having those thoughts again, of claiming a Paper Wasp nest. We pulled over to get a better look when to our surprise, a Woodpecker swept down, landed on the side of the nest and started tearing it apart. Darn! Within three minutes this huge, beautiful Paper Wasp nest was shredded. The Woodpecker must have been looking for a Wasp or embryos left in the nest when winter struck.
If we hadn’t been parked, and looking for the nest at that very moment in time, we would have missed this little drama of nature, as a very smart woodpecker stopped by for a frozen dinner at the Wasp nest.
If you would like to know more about birds or activities of the Red Cliffs Audubon, call 435 673-0996. Our next General Meeting features Jimmy Tyree, St. George BLM Field Manager, Wednesday, April 11, 7:00 p.m. at the Tonaquint Nature Center. The following Saturday will be a RCA Field Trip to Lytle Preserve. Meet 7:00 a.m. at BLM and bring a lunch. Public is welcome.Our field trip and meeting schedule can be found here and if you wish to review any of the past Artists and Birds articles, they are listed below.
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