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I found a small wasp nest this morning that's about 3" in diameter tucked into the railing of my deck stairs. It's unfortunately facing the side of my house, which is about 6 or 7 feet away, so I'd have to spray it at an odd angle to get enough distance between it and me when doing so.

Upon closer look, however, I'm wondering if it's an abandoned nest? It looks like there are a couple holes in places where the sides may have collapsed:

wasp nest

I haven't noticed any wasps entering or leaving it when I watched it closely for a few minutes in the middle of the day. Is it safe to knock it down? Should I get a spray for it regardless to be safe? Thanks!

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Yeah, just hit it with the hose. Even if there are a few wasps, the hose sends them running away from you. If you're at all leery, wear long sleeves, long pants, and a hood drawn tight around your head. – Hot Licks Mar 17 at 0:12
    
If the wasps didn't cause you any problems last year while they were actually living in it, they certainly won't be bothering you in future. Different species have different strategies for over-wintering, but unless the climate is warm enough for all-year-round activity (which doesn't seem likely in Chicago!) only the queen wasp survives the winter, and starts to build new nest for the following year. – alephzero Mar 17 at 2:25
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Wasps only use these nests for a year and then abandon them. If you haven't seen any activity it should be safe to just knock it down. By the looks of your picture and your description it does seem like an old, unused nest. Have a fly swatter with you to be safe, but a nest that small isn't going to have wasps pouring out of it. I'm sure you could just run around the corner to get away even if there was a stray wasp or two.

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Standard paper wasp nest, they're fairly innocuous unless you're allergic to wasp stings. It takes quite a bit to provoke them. And if you aren't seeing them fly around, it's an old unused nest. The ones to watch out for are yellow-jacket nests, hornets are another ball-game altogether. These are honey-bee sized and have alternating black/yellow striped abdomens. – Fiasco Labs Mar 16 at 19:52
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@FiascoLabs - Some of the nastiest, if you get close to their nests, are the otherwise docile bumble bees. If their nest is threatened they'll chase you a half mile. – Hot Licks Mar 17 at 0:13
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I can attest to Bumblebees being the Cobra of Hymenoptera (thankfully only in tenacity of revenge, not venomousness) and the worst we have around here are bald hornets. Black, slightly larger than the big bumble bee and pack a punch that can knock you off a horse painwise. You never want to be attacked en mass by these. – Fiasco Labs Mar 17 at 2:07
    
I did finally knock it down last night, because it was dark and around 45 degrees F outside. Incidentally, one hornet fell out as the nest fell to the ground. And I found a second one hiding in the corner of the deck railing behind where the nest was, possibly the queen. I very quickly disposed of both wasps. – Derek Mar 20 at 21:38

Just take a hose to it, from as far away & as close to a door as you can. With the hose set to stream this will mostly just wash away. If there are still any tenants then they won't likely return. But, if they do is when you get the spray, they usually start dying on contact.

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Since this nest was found in March, it is probably leftover from last year, but it is also possible that it is being built by a queen.

life cycle of wasps

March and April is the best time to control wasps for the whole year by trapping a queen. Commercial traps work well, but if you don't want to spend anything, there's plenty of info online for home made 2 liter funnel traps. It/they should be baited with a bit of fried chicken because wasps have seasonal food preferences; and I know this from experience (full scale research). See the lifecycle of wasps above. The pregnant queen overwinters in hibernation and in Spring, builds a nest. Trapping a queen now, will prevent a colony this summer.

On the other hand, wasps are sometimes considered beneficial because they are predators of other insects.

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