The Ever-Singing Eastern Phoebe

Phoebe, phoebe, phoebe, phoebe …

It seems that this bird, the Eastern phoebe, doesn’t quit repeating its name. One was in my yard quite a while ago, but it disappeared. Now it’s back and I’m glad. Life is enriched hearing that repetition, while I’m gardening.

The phoebe is a hardy flycatcher, and migrates north much earlier and returns south later than other birds. Sometimes it might even spend the whole winter in the north. I would rather go south in the winter, but then, I don’t have to spend a whole lot of physical energy to make the trip. Birds work hard and face many dangers in migration.

When a phoebe hunts for food, it flits erratically over low vegetation. Then, it rests on a low perch, while still busy looking for insects which fly in the air or feed on the ground. In cold autumn, it seeks out fruit. Maybe it enjoys insects in my field, especially after my neighbor mows it for cow bedding. After the insects are frozen or hibernate for the winter, our bird in question seeks out berries. Lots of wild blackberries are here, too.

Like the barn swallow which builds a nest in a barn, phoebe does, also. There’s plenty of space in my big one for both. It also builds a nest along a brook with rocky shelves and high banks. One is just down my road.

Other favorite spots for building its nest include on bridge girders, window sills and tops of window shutters (particularly if they are near the eves). The nest is a 4 1/2 inch cup of mud and moss, lined with grass and hair. Five pure-white eggs are laid. It’s pretty common for it to raise two broods. Rarely, it even has three broods.

Where do Mr. and Mrs. Phoebe hang out? Often that would be in a dry area with short grass and weeds. They are not tree huggers, so don’t spend too much time looking for them in the woods. So how come I hear my visitor in the trees near the woods? Also, my land is anything but dry. Here’s an important piece of advice. Don’t believe everything you read – not even my articles. Anybody can make a mistake.

Now, since I mostly talk about bird behavior, I have space in this article to consider another bird. Let’s see … I’m looking through my “Audubon Land Bird Guide.” Oh, goodie. Here’s another one that I hear every year on my property. I just did recently. Another member of the Tyrannidae family is the crested flycatcher.

The woodland male and female are extremely busy right now protecting their territory from other flycatchers. They prefer forests with lots of open space. However, look for it also in dense second growth. Also, it can be very adaptable by finding old orchards, near shade trees on farms and even near buildings.

A warning to all humans and maybe even dogs. You’re in trouble if you come near the crested flycatcher’s nest tree. This bird can be ferocious. The problem is that it can be hidden by tree tops where it mostly breeds.

Just a smidgen about its nest. That would be found in a natural cavity (only about 6-15 feet above the ground), in an old tree or branch. I think that the fact that it fills a very deep hole with trash, until it can build a nest about 12-18 inches from the opening is interesting. It reminds me of some humans who surround their homes with trash. If you can think of another bird that does this, please let me know.