Smack in the middle of the photo above is a hornet’s nest, a bald-faced hornet hive. It’s in a small red maple just off the end of the boardwalk in Explore the Wild. The hive’s dimensions are approximately 12″ x 8″ (H x W).
Bald faced hornets are part of a sub-family of wasps known as yellowjackets. Their markings are white instead of yellow as in the local eastern yellowjacket. They’re also larger than the more familiar yellowjackets.
While eastern yellowjackets often build their nests underground or within some type of cavity, like a hollow tree branch, bald-faced hornets usually build their hives high up off the ground, typically hanging from a tree branch.
The hive is made of paper. The worker wasps make the paper for the hive by stripping off pieces of wood from tree branches, or in the case illustrated here, the wood railing of a boardwalk. The wood is chewed into a pulpy consistency and applied to the hive.
Encounters with b-f hornets are infrequent. Away from the hive they’re not aggressive, at least in my experience. They don’t visit picnic tables and compete for your food, which is how many people are stung by eastern yellowjackets. I’ve been stung many times by the smaller yellowjackets. I’ve never been stung by a b-f hornet.
As docile as bald faced hornets may be while out collecting wood or food for the hive, I would avoid disturbing a hive. Don’t be tempted to poke at a hive with a stick. The hive will likely empty quickly with the singleminded objective of doing harm to the person at the other end of the stick.