Winged Houseguests at Chez BA [pic]

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
June 16 2013 8:00 AM

Winged Tenants, Wanted and Unwanted

A few years back, a pair of House Finches built a nest under the eave of our roof. After the chicks hatched and flew away (which we missed) a second pair (or maybe the original) nested there again—clever, saving them the need to rebuild from scratch.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Over the next two years the nest was abandoned, though, until last year when a robin took up residence. That proved unfruitful; a few days after I took the picture in that link I saw the broken egg shells on the ground. I never did find out what happened, but given nature, red in tooth and claw, I suspect another bird came along and ate the egg contents.


But never fret! This year, amazingly, a pair of handsome House Finches have once again taken up residence.

Eavesdropping. Click to enavianate.

All photos by Phil Plait

That’s the mama bird, who seconds later snuggled in (literally; her tail feathers waving back and forth primly as she hunkered down into the nest) for a nice brood. She wasn’t thrilled with my being less than ten meters away snapping pictures, but hey! It’s my house too.

Actually, she was in the nest when I first walked outside to take the picture, but flew off to a nearby tree when she saw me. Turns out her hubby was there too:

Love birds.

Adorable. And loud; they sing a lot. But it’s sweet sounding, and I like it.

What I don’t like, though is what I saw tucked into the eave under which I was standing:

An unwelcome guest.

I thought at first it was a Yellow Jacket, but given the shape of the nest I now suspect it’s a Polistes dominula, a European paper wasp, an invasive species in the United States. Either species is aggressive and mean, and they frankly terrify me. I got stung by one on the fingertip a few years ago—like the damn thing knew where the densest cluster of nerve endings are in the human body—and there are no words for the intensity of the pain I felt. I’m pretty sure for a moment I shifted into another dimension.

So these are not as welcome a visitor as the finches. The wasps come every year and nest under our eaves, and every year I have to clean them out. But in one sense I hate to do it; they are a marvel of evolutionary engineering, and their nests are a wonder.

But that stinger evolved too, and so it’s either us or them. I vote us.

In the meantime, I’ll keep my eye on the birdies. If the eggs hatch, I bet I’ll have some cute pictures soon. It’s happened before.



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