Let Me Tell You ’bout the Birds and the Bees
I used to think I knew something about the birds and the bees.
That was before I moved to North Carolina.
Up here the birds and the bees pay little heed to the endeavors of humans, except when we can benefit them directly.
The birds moved into my house some time in April. It may have been March ‘— I wasn’t really paying attention. The birds in my neighborhood, the small black ones with yellow beaks, have taken to nesting under the eaves and in the vent openings of the homes on the sloping terrain. They have little choice; the land was clearcut for development and the nearest trees are about a hundred yards away from my house, which must seem like an awful long way, even by the wing, to a little bird.
So they made a little nest in the vent opening in my attic. No big deal, I figured. Live and let live, I said. No harm no foul. You get the idea.
Word of my benevolence must have spread among the birds, because by the time we put away our Easter decorations the attic had become’… kind of a swinging bird apartment complex, actually, with some nests in the corners and mating rituals being enacted in frenzied flight patterns throughout the peaked space.
I think it was one of these couples that moved into the vent over our stove. I knew there was something rustling around up there, and when the weather began to soften I detected the sounds of a nest full of young ones. Little baby squeaks echoed through the vent, and we could always tell when mama came home with some worms or grubs or whatever because the pips and squeaks rose to a fevered pitch.
They had to go, of course, but now we had to wipe out entire families, a whole generation of pesky little black birds.
The bees are smarter.
Okay, so they’re not exactly bees. They’re two mating female paper wasps, to be more specific, but I’m employing a bit of poetic license here.
Anyway, they’ve set up shop in a corner of the picture window outside our offices, and by Monday morning they’d constructed three combs, the beginnings of what could become an empire if left unchecked.
One of these female paper wasps will establish dominance during the construction of the hive and will go on to become queen. She’ll fill the combs with larvae and continue to reproduce while the newly-sprung females elaborate on the nest around her. Males won’t enter the picture until late in the summer, when they join the gene pool solely to fertilize the females. The men die off when the weather turns while the ladies ride out the winter in secluded hibernation.
But for now it’s just the two gals busily building their paper condo and flaring their sharp little wings when I get too close. They had 11 combs as of this morning and they show no signs of slowing down.
The wasps are more interesting to watch than the birds. They haven’t yet budged from the fledgling hive, and I admire their diligence and concentration. Add to that the fact they they’re essentially making paper ‘— chewing wood pulp until it mixes just right with their saliva to make a product that looks remarkably like newsprint ‘— and the journalist in me even cheers their efforts a bit. But I know that these wasps would turn on me in a second if I got too close.
We had to get rid of the birds. We were worried about sanitation and we couldn’t stand the incessant chirping. Plus the cats were going crazy. My wife had a guy come over just as the vents were beginning to stink. He shooed them from the attic and blew them from the hood over the stove. Then, after flirting with our caregiver, he fixed mesh screens over the openings.
My wife said that yesterday she found a bird with its little yellow beak caught in the mesh, hanging dead from the side of the house.
I won’t make the same mistake with the bees. Or paper wasps, to be more accurate. Sure, I may watch them another day, maybe even let them survive the weekend and chart their progress ‘— they’re remarkably productive. I might even wait until the first of the grubs mature into workers, at which point the nest will grow at an exponential rate. But probably before then, maybe even right after I finish writing this column, I’ll go out there with a spray can of wasp-foam and fully eradicate their little corner of the world.
To comment on this Crashing the Gate, email Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.