Birdie Tenants Won’t Pay Rent


Eastern phoebe babies waiting for mama to appear with the next fat bug for lunch.

I never thought much about the little gray bird that so often flashed out of my open cellar way when I strolled by.  Since I’m not putting in wood for the winter right now, I don’t go down there much. Eventually, though, I have to put out my recycling before the piles of newspaper and plastic become animated on their own.

Deciding to surprise the recycling truck crew with evidence that I am still alive, I hauled my blue box out of the basement along with the accompanying many bags of extras. Above the outside door light, I spotted a charming bird’s nest of mud and moss, perfectly round and looking constructed by Disney. I climbed up to look and found this picturesque structure empty and long abandoned.  Oh well…

Then, from the other side of the cellar way, I caught the tiniest of movements. Tucked in between a two by four and the hot tin roof, was another nest, untidily squat and crammed to the brim with shadowy inhabitants. Okay, shift over to have a look.  Hiding out in this narrow space was a menage of baby birds, part way between fuzz and feathers, ignoring my gawking and fast asleep.

Phoebe copy

Outraged mama ordering me off.

Mama was not asleep.  She shot into the tree just outside, hanging off the tip of a branch and screeching her outrage at me.  I got down.  Mama was not mollified.  She screeched even more, flitting away and flitting back, flitting at the door and doing a last second U turn. Her mate also flew about but without mama’s fury.  He perched on the clothesline and chirped half heartedly. I suspected there would be some hot domestic words between them after I left.

The birds are eastern phoebes, little gray songbirds with pale bosoms.  The are so named from their raspy “phee-bee” call heard so often from the trees, one of the earliest signs that spring has returned. They wag their tails and pick their diet of insects out of mid air. My phoebe set up house with me without asking and, no doubt, hoped to escape my attention entirely until she could leave me a second empty nest. Well, I’ve spotted her. And from the size of her babies she’s got an awful lot of bugs to catch before they are ready to leave.  I counted four at least and they all look bigger than her. So I’ll give her a break on the rent.  It’s a drought year and she has a big family to feed.

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