Phoebe is Back
Among the earliest migrants to arrive, and one of the last to leave in the fall, is the Eastern Phoebe, whose name comes from the raspy, emphatic “phoebe” song, most frequently given at dawn during breeding season. Don’t confuse the phoebe’s song with the more musical, whistled chickadee’s “feeebeee,” also heard in late winter and early spring.The mnemonic of the two songs is the same, but the quality of the songs is very different.
The Eastern Phoebe is a flycatcher with a short, wide bill used to collect insects—and at the base of the bill there are whiskers, used as a net of sorts, helping to shepherd in those captured bugs. The birds are brownish-gray above—darkest on the head, wings and tail—with underparts that are mostly white with a grayish wash on the sides and breast; though in the fall, this species’ belly has a yellowish wash. The phoebe lacks the eye ring and wing bars of other flycatchers, and it has the distinguishing habit of pumping its tail as it lands on a perch.
The plumage of males and females of this species is the same. While phoebes are monogamous, occasionally males do mate with two females. In courtship display, phoebes perform brief, erratic flight chases. Formation of a pair is rapid; the couple has much to do in a short time, often raising two broods in one season.
The female alone builds a cup-shaped nest of mud pellets and plant fibers lined with moss, hair, feathers or grass, on a platform, or vertically attached to a structure with mud. Phoebes are site-specific—they typically return to the same site year after year. Since the nest takes up to two weeks to build, to save time and energy, the female often repairs and reuses the same nest each year or, at the very least, for both the first and second broods of any one year.
On average, the first brood consists of five white eggs and the second, four eggs. Incubation, again by the female alone, takes about two weeks. Once the eggs are hatched, both parents feed the nestlings regurgitated food, moving onto insect parts, then complete insects as the nestlings grow into fledglings, which takes about another two weeks.
For the first few days, the parents swallow the nestlings’ waste, or fecal sacs, but then they carry them away, dropping them at a spot away from the nest to help keep predators at bay. The fledged birds remain with their parents for another two weeks as they are “taught” how to be good phoebes.
If, after about three weeks, the young are still dependent, the adults will show aggression toward them, forcing their offspring to leave the immediate vicinity of the nest; however, the young will remain nearby as the second brood is raised. Come late autumn, months after some birds have departed, finished with the raising of their own families, phoebes finally leave for their wintering grounds in southernUnited StatesintoMexico.
So, while eastern phoebes are just arriving, listen carefully in the early morning hours for the persistent “phoebe” songs. Try to follow the birds’ movements and maybe you’ll find a nest site—perhaps on an eave of your own home. By monitoring the raising of two phoebe families through about mid-June to early July, you might learn something that you can do to encourage the return of these families early next spring. And do let me know if you succeed—I’ve been trying for decades and have yet to play host to these lovely little creatures.
While the voices of the employees at Marine Parts Express may all be different, we all sing the same song when it comes to making sure our customers come first. Call us toll-free at 877.621.2628, or go online to marinepartsexpress.com.
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April 29, 2011 / Noreen O'Brien / 0
Tags: Eastern Phoebe
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