Fee-bee! Fee-bee!

Think I heard my first Eastern Phoebe of the year!

Phoebe painted with wild inks

The chickens and I were outside doing our stretches. I was doing physio for my arm (it is possible I overdid it, using a pickaxe to liberate our icy driveway last month), while the chickens were running around looking for slugs and bugs.

I was enjoying listening to the morning birdsong, when a familiar determined trill popped out from the robin-dominant din. A phoebe!

I wasn’t familiar with phoebes before we moved here. They’re adorable little flycatchers, with forked tail feathers that flick distinctively whenever they’re sat on low perches, waiting to snatch their next bug from the air.

A phoebe has nested on our house at least as long as we’ve lived here, and possibly before that. Phoebes will reuse their nests, after doing some refurbishing, so we leave the nests in place and intact year-to-year, snugged up under the roof’s overhang.

Last year the phoebe that usually nested on the back of our house built a new nest on the front instead — possibly a consequence of something-not-us mutilating their nest beyond repair while the phoebes were away for the winter. (I don’t know for certain it is the same phoebe nesting, or at least the same family line. But given that the oldest known phoebe was 10 years and 4 months old, I guess it’s possible!)

The change in nest neighbourhood was wonderful for us though, as the phoebe’s new nest was by a large window, so we were able to watch all their comings and goings — and fledgings! Bird TV. We’d witnessed part of one fledging in a previous year. We were standing by the bedroom window when a very very tiny phoebe (which are already pretty tiny to start with) landed on the little framed edge of our bedroom window, breathing heavy and looking like this whole flying business was quite new, exciting, and scary. A-dorable.

The other birds don’t appreciate the phoebe’s claiming of the front of our house as much as we do. I usually have a window-mounted feeder on that same large window, but we had to take it down last year. The phoebe was very territorial, and took to “giving the bird” — dramatic maverick-style swooping attacks — to any interloper who tried to pop by for a snack. I decided to remove the temptation, and took that feeder down until the phoebes had moved on.

It is very satisfying and exhilarating though to watch these incredibly agile and nimble little fighter pilot birds in action. Their swoops and banks and high speed catches of bugs from the air are spectacular to watch. I mean, they are catching bugs mid-flight! Last year was particularly enjoyable, as the phoebes were at least reasonably happy to include LDD moths on their menu. We had just ridiculous number of caterpillars (until their collapse) last year, so seeing the phoebe munching away on them was a delicious sight.

Sights – and sounds – of spring continue…