For the past few weeks, we’d been avoiding using our front door. It’s because the resident Eastern Phoebes (Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren) have returned. In the past, I had watched them build their moss-covered nest. I recently learned the female does all the nest building. The male often follows her back and forth like a puppy as she does all of the work. This year the phoebe re-used last year’s nest under the eaves of my front porch. We didn’t want to disturb them, so we tried to avoid using the front door while she sat on four eggs.
Surprisingly, this mother seemed unperturbed by our comings and goings. This tolerance of humans and their willingness to nest on man-made structures has helped this bird thrive. We’ve had them at our house every year for the ten years we’ve lived here. Watch around houses, barns and sheds in your area. Chances are you have a pair, too.
The male continues to hang around like a father in waiting. I’m glad to have him. He has several perches around the house from which he sallies out to catch flying insects and then quickly returns. This gives me time to study him closely.
Phoebes are not very dramatic birds. They are a drab brown on top and buffy white with a faint, olive wash underneath. They look similar to other types of flycatchers. However, phoebes have a behavior that is distinct from other flycatchers. It constantly bobs its tail. This is a surefire way to identify this bird.
Once the eggs hatch, the male does get to work helping his mate feed the rapidly growing chicks. The pair work hard to collect enough insects. As they grow, the chicks begin to overflow the nest.
Now, one thing I’ll admit is a nuisance about these birds. . .they make a mess under their nest. The chicks hang their little bums over the edge when they poop. The parent’s preferred flight path to the nest also becomes clear because it too is marked with excrement.
After they fledge, we relax and go back to using our front door. I get out the hose and clean up the mess. To me, this is a small price to pay for all the insects this little family eats during their time at my house. And I get to pretend I played a small role in helping raise this family.
James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.