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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Winged Tenants, Wanted and Unwanted

By Phil Plait

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 againâclever, saving them the need to rebuild from scratch.

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.

Thatâs 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 wasnât thrilled with my being less than ten meters away snapping pictures, but hey! Itâs 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:

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

What I donât like, though is what I saw tucked into the eave under which I was standing:

I thought at first it was a Yellow Jacket, but given the shape of the nest I now suspect itâs 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 agoâlike the damn thing knew where the densest cluster of nerve endings are in the human bodyâand there are no words for the intensity of the pain I felt. Iâm 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 itâs either us or them. I vote us.

In the meantime, Iâll keep my eye on the birdies. If the eggs hatch, I bet Iâll have some cute pictures soon. Itâs happened before.

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