A pair of Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) built their nest on a beam of our woodshed. Phoebes are amongst a handful of bird species, along with robins and House wrens, that will raise their young close to human habitations. Phoebes often take advantage of human structures as platforms for their cup-like nests made of mud pellets, plant fibers, and moss. Their preferred habitat is open woodland or farmland with scattered trees, located close to water.
Phoebes make their living as flycatchers, or aerial insect hunters. They sit on a perch and make short flights to capture passing insects on the wing. Many aerial forager species are in decline, their numbers dropping, in some cases precipitously, as birds fall victims to the declining availability of habitat and the pervasive use of pesticides. Phoebes are an exception, and it may be their ability to nest in close proximity to human activity that has allowed them to thrive.
Phoebes usually lay four or five white eggs in their nest lined with hair and feathers and grass. The female incubates the eggs for 16 days. When the babies hatch, they are downless and have closed eyes. And yet, just 15 or 16 days later, these tiny, helpless, naked babies will be ready to fly and nearly the size of their parents!
By last weekend, the phoebe nestlings were outgrowing their nest. It was clear they would be ready to leave the nest as fledglings soon.
Sure enough, two days after I took these photographs, the nest was empty. I saw them a few mornings later, following a parent as they cried out in their buzzy baby voices. Their message was clear: Feed me! Feed me! The parents will continue to feed their youngsters for a few days until they are able to forage on their own.
Here’s a photo of a fledgling taken by Seabrooke a few years ago.