Wildlife Wednesday: Hornet Nests Decorate Trees this Time of Year

Bald-Faced Hornet Nests Have a Story to Tell

Through most of the year, hornet nests are barely visible tucked in trees with leaves surrounding them. But in winter, hornet nests are easily found and fascinating structures that can be safely explored without fear of repercussion. Around my neck of the woods bald-faced hornets make beautiful, tear drop shaped nests that provide a home base for the colony from spring to late fall.

Bald-faced hornets are actually not true hornets, they are a member of the yellowjacket wasp family although they are less aggressive than yellowjackets themselves. Their colonies consist of a queen and worker wasps and number anywhere from 400 to 700 members. The bald-faced hornet is mainly black in color with white on its face, thus giving it its name, and three white stripes on the abdomen.

Their nests on the inside consist of hexagonal combs where the larvae are raised. Those combs are covered in thin paper strips. The interesting thing about these strips is they are actually made by the workers going out and chewing wood fibers then mixing them with saliva to form a pulp which they work into thin strips with their mandibles and legs. If you look closely at a nest, you'll see differences in the color and texture of the paper strips. That's caused because the pulp used to build the nest comes from many different local sources. Each different tree, bush or plant used creates a different color and texture.

These hornets can be found throughout the country. They start their nests around March to May depending on their location. The nests are generally active for around five months, again depending on the weather and location. During the active phase, new eggs are laid and hatched, the larvae are raised and they become adults. In late summer or early fall, the queen lays a special set of eggs which become drones and queens. This group flies away from the nest to mate and then they overwinter in forest leaf litter. The rest of the colony and its queen die before the first frost hits. But those that overwinter will wake up in spring and start colonies of their own.

Oops! Black Australorp on Wrong Perch

Hen Missing from the Chicken Coop is Found in Nearby Tree

Somehow during her nightly trip to the chicken coop, Rowena our Black Australorp, got waylaid. (Our chickens roam throughout the day, and put themselves into their coop at night.) When my husband went to shut the chickens in for the night, he only counted 14; we were missing one! He quickly called me for reinforcements in the form of flashlights. We determined it was Rowena missing; darn our luck, she's black and it was dark outside. Luckily though, a scan of the trees in our backyard found her happily perched in the Redbud tree next to our deck. Even luckier, she wasn't perched that high, After some creative maneuvering, my husband was able to reach up and get her. We gently returned her to the coop and she settled onto the roost for the night, no worse for the wear.

You may have guessed, my kids had inspiration in naming Rowena from the Harry Potter movies. And I would be remiss to say that just like the members of Ravenclaw House are known for their wit and intelligence, our Rowena Ravenclaw definitely has those qualities. When she got out of her routine and found herself in the dark and without a coop, she had enough wit to find a safe perch and she was prepared to hang in until morning! (Luckily it didn't come to that.)

Rowena, the Black Australorp, perched in the Redbud tree by our deck.

Black Australorp Breed Qualities

Black Australorps are beautiful, docile chickens that make a great addition to any flock. They have all black glossy feathers that are especially pretty when the sun hits them just right and the feathers take on a green sheen. Black Australorps are great producers of brown eggs. In fact, a Black Australorp holds the egg laying record for laying 364 eggs in 365 days. Black Australorps endure heat and cold well and continue laying through the seasons. This is considered a dual-purpose bird that matures quickly and can be kept for both eggs and meat. Males weigh 8.5 lbs. and females weigh 6.5 lbs.

Class: English
Origin: Australia
Comb Type: Single
Egg Color: Brown
Egg Size: Large
Egg Production: Excellent
Broody: Yes
Hardiness: Heat and Cold Hardy
Temperament: Active yet Gentle
Environment: Confinement or Free Range
Characteristics: Productive and Fast Growing
Breed Status: Recovering
(Sources: Meyer Hatchery & The Livestock Conservancy)

Originally published July 2011.
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