Home for the Summer: Phoebes
From Jan Kent
Twice since we've owned our cabin, we've had phoebes nest under our eaves. The first time was quite a few years ago, and the birds were well established when we showed up on the scene. They had built a nest over our lakeside door and when we opened the door, there was a rush of flapping bird wings and crying as the adult fled the nest.
We, of course, felt guilty. After all, the birds built a nest there in good faith when there were no humans around. We locked the door and didn't use it and looked out the window at the mess they were making on our steps and little open porch. Feathers and twigs and grass and bird droppings were everywhere. But it was the right thing to do, and we stuck with our decision.
Finally, we heard the peeps of baby birds, and knew the little family was okay. Eventually, the young learned to fly and were on their way.
Hallelujah! We took down the nest and hosed down the porch and prepared to live our lives in a normal way at the cabin.
However, that wasn't what the phoebes had in mind. Almost immediately after their first family fledged, they began to build another nest right next to the spot where the first nest had been. Oh no, we thought. It's our turn to use the porch and the stairs and the door. So we swept off the nesting material and lined up logs along the ledges and left no room for the birds to build, forcing them to find another, quieter spot.
Then, several years ago, Les built a ledge under the eaves outside the corner of our screened porch. It was a perfect spot for a nest — protected, but visible from the porch. This year, when we got up to the cabin, phoebes were nesting in this cosy spot for the first time. We were tickled, but not for long. Even though we were screened off from the nest, the birds were afraid of us. The adults were never on the nest when we checked, but they sat in the mountain ash just a little ways beyond the cabin and called out sadly.
This being the chilly summer that it has been, we weren't out on the porch much to disturb the birds, but they were still miffed. (A miffed phoebe — sounds pretty exotic, doesn't it?) Eventually both phoebes stopped punishing us with their waiting around and their sad little songs. They flew away — to a more restful nesting place, we hoped.
After a while we took down the nest. It seemed to be only partly finished, very small and shallow, with only a few fluffy feathers in the bottom. We concluded that the birds started their nest-building late in the season because of the long winter and the late spring. Maybe next year we'll try to block off the view of the porch from the nesting ledge. Or maybe we'll take a cue from our earlier phoebe experience and put a log there.
Whatever happens, we wish the best of luck to the phoebes.