About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Big, round gray papery ball not an oriole nest

Good morning, I was all over the web this morning trying to identify a bird nest we saw in our backyard today. As the leaves were falling off the tree, we noticed this giant nest. Based on your description, we think it is oriole nest. May I ask what you think? - Diana in Aurora, CO

In Michigan we have Northern Paper Wasps that make these nests. Out west it might be a Bald-faced Hornet nest or some other yellow jacket wasps nest. The insects chew up fibers from dead wood and plant stems, and mix it with saliva to construct water-resistant nests that look like gray or brown papery material.

Wasps feed their young liquefied bugs, with caterpillars, flies and spiders comprising the largest food groups in the insects diet during most of the summer. The food demands of growing colonies are so great that it has been estimated that more than 2 pounds of insects may be removed from a 2,000-square-foot garden a day.

However in late summer, wasps start looking for flower nectar and other sources of sugar, which are necessary nutrients for the next season’s queens. Fewer young are being raised in the nests, which leaves many individuals with little to do. At this point they may wear out their welcome as they swarm hummingbird feeders.

Predators of adult wasps include birds (at least 24 species are known to eat wasps, including blackbirds, magpies, starlings), spiders and frogs. Raccoons, fox and skunks will also rip nests open in the fall, when they aren't as active to eat adults, pupae, and larvae.

A Baltimore Oriole nest looks different. The female weaves the nest, usually 3 to 4 inches deep, with a small opening, 2 to 3 inches wide, on top and a bulging bottom chamber, 3 to 4 inches across, where her eggs will rest. Construction materials can include grass, strips of grapevine bark, wool, and horsehair, as well as artificial fibers such as cellophane, twine, or fishing line.

We had received a call back from our pest control company that informed us that it was a paper wasp nest. They are coming next week to remove it. I was actually glad it was not a bird nest as it looked so ominous.


In response to the photo posted, I saw this empty nest last Saturday, it shows what the nest looks like on the inside.  Interesting!  Kerry

Related articles:
Bird Nest Basics http://bit.ly/sqNq0u
5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/uWN7fE
Common Backyard Bird Nest Identification http://bit.ly/GRg910
When do birds begin nesting? http://bit.ly/GGuobs