Baby phoebes

Eastern Phoebe fledglings

I have collected a great backlog of photos over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been taking photos with my usual regularity, but posting less often as the spring bird season wears on and I grow more and more tired from the three-A.M. wake-ups and gradual accumulation of sleep deprivation. The last day of banding is Monday, after which I should (following a few days’ recovery period to catch up on rest) be back to a more usual posting schedule.

These photos were taken a week ago, May 26. Back in mid-April a pair of Eastern Phoebes started showing interest in the old phoebe nest sitting on top of the bat box that hangs high under the roof overhanging the front door. Phoebes will re-use old nests from previous years, something that not too many birds do, generally because for most species last year’s nest usually disintegrates in the winter weather. Phoebe nests are built on ledges under overhangs and are normally fairly protected from the elements, allowing them to endure for many years. The adults will return to sites from which they successfully fledged young the previous year, and will refurbish the old nest with some new moss and fine-grass for lining. When we moved in last summer there was a brood of young phoebes just about ready to leave the nest, and it’s likely that the pair that arrived to use the nest this spring were the parents of last summer’s nestlings, as well.

Eastern Phoebe fledgling

Two weeks of incubation and the eggs hatched, and then two weeks of catching bugs from the garden and stuffing them into hungry maws and the young birds fledged. During the whole process the phoebes were pretty tolerant of our comings and goings, and especially of Raven, who would lie in the shade on the porch for long stretches. Phoebes, robins, Tree Swallows… all pretty easy-going birds, when it comes to human activity. Once the chicks hatched the adult would often be seen perched in the maple tree a short distance away, cheeping at us with his “I’m not crazy that you’re there but I’ll just wait here as long as you don’t do anything drastic” call note. Dan set up the plastic lawn chairs under the maple, and could sit there in the shade in the afternoons and watch the hard-working adult flycatching in the garden, probably averaging a bug every minute or two.

Eastern Phoebe fledgling

When the youngsters fledged, all five of them, they hung about the yard for a few days. In particular they seemed to favour one of the pines at one corner, and could often be spotted low in the branches. One afternoon Dan called me outside, saying the five fledglings were all perched together in some open branches of the tree. Fledglings will usually allow you to approach fairly closely (the younger they are, the closer you can get before they flush) and I eased up to within about ten feet of them, carrying my long lens to try to get a few photos. At that young age they’ve still got their fleshy yellow gapes (the bright yellow both acts as a guide for the parents to know where to stuff the food in the lower light of the nest site, and also as a visual stimulus that triggers an instinctual need to feed it within the adult bird – cowbirds use this instinct to their benefit when parasitizing nests, as they’ve got the biggest, brightest, flashiest gapes of all the nestlings) and their short tails, but the gapes will disappear in a few weeks, and the feathers will be full grown in next to no time.

Eastern Phoebe

The adult perched on the old, weathered well handpump, chirping his displeasure at my presence so close to his young. I took my photos quickly, and then headed back inside to let them get back to the important business of eating and growing.

This afternoon as I passed him on the porch, Dan pointed up to the old phoebe nest. The female is already settled in, incubating her second brood of the summer. In birds that will nest a second time the female often leaves the male before the first chicks are weaned to finish raising them to independence while she goes back to the nest, spruces it up, and starts laying her second clutch. By overlapping even just this little bit they get an extra few days or a week of the summer in which to raise their young. This might be her final brood of the season, as they’ll be due to fledge at the start of July, but if they were so inclined (and some birds are, though phoebes usually only raise one or two broods a year) their early-spring start means there’d probably be time enough to raise a third brood which would fledge mid-August. On the other hand… if I were the phoebe, by July I’d be looking forward to taking a break before having to head south again.

Dan has an ongoing series called the Nest Files on the Frontenac Birds blog, and he profiled the Eastern Phoebe last year. You can pop over there to read more about their nesting habits, and to see some photos of the nest and eggs.

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Today at Kingsford – Crummy bird photos

Red-shouldered Hawk flyover

My photos are still trapped on my camera, so I turn again to some recent ones I’ve taken the last few weeks. I’ve ordered a card reader off of that incredibly handy site, eBay, but don’t expect it to arrive until after the long weekend, unfortunately. However, the poor weather has been helpful in limiting the number of photos I’ve taken in the meantime. Today’s archive special is crummy bird photos. I certainly have lots of them.

We’ve had lots of birds arriving the last few weeks. My BIGBY list is now up to 50 species, with the most recent addition being a House Sparrow, of all species, showing up at our feeders. It’s pretty unusual to see House Sparrows outside of urban or agricultural habitats, and I’m not sure what it was doing out in the boonies here. Species number 49 was a Northern Cardinal, also a rarity around here, I can count on one hand the number that we’ve seen since we moved in. It was also at the feeders, foraging alongside the House Sparrow.

Most of the species have been ones we’ve been expecting, though. The Red-shouldered Hawks returned a couple of weeks ago, two of them together. Red-shoulders pair up prior to arriving on their breeding territories, and usually hold the same territory from one year to the next, so I think the two that have been hanging out around our house are the same individuals as we saw cruising the area last summer. We think they have a nest in the forest across the road.

Red-shouldered Hawk flyover

They soar directly over our house fairly frequently, but naturally I rarely have my camera at the ready when they do. The one time I happened to have the camera out, with the long lens on it, the bird came upon me too quickly for me to get the lens focused, though I fired off half a dozen shots anyway hoping one might be okay (none were). I was very excited about the hawks’ return, and was hoping to post something on them, but it might have to wait for later in the summer.

Eastern Phoebe

Another instance where I was unprepared. I had my 100mm lens on the camera, and didn’t have the 300mm with me. The 100mm is my macro/portrait lens, and I’d been out looking for bugs. I’d decided to leave the extra weight of the 300mm at home. Of course, that happened to be the day that I came across my spring-first Eastern Phoebe, foraging just close enough to be tempting, and just far enough to be out of reach of the shorter lens. I haven’t had a good photo op of a phoebe since that afternoon. Phoebes are one of my favourite birds, so I’ve been pleased at their return. When we moved in, we noticed an old nest on our security light, and we hoped maybe to see them there again this year since they do sometimes reuse nests, but I think they’ve probably been put off by the dog.

Red-breasted Nuthatch at nest cavity

Finally, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, excavating a nesting cavity. This one I actually had my 300mm for, I just happened to be too far away for a good photo, which was a bit disappointing since how often do you stumble across nuthatches building nests? He was working away up high in a tall dead snag. It looked like it was maybe an inch or two deep, just in the early stages, based on how far he was sticking his head in. This one will be a tougher one to monitor than the Pileated nest, mostly because it’s quite high relative to the size of the bird, but since it’s right along the road I’ll be by it often and can check in now and then.

Red-breasted Nuthatch at nest cavity