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Our Hardiest Flycatcher – Times News Online

Published on August 06, 2022 at 10:48 am

For a few years after my grandmother died, I was “in charge” of mowing the lawn, orchard, etc. of Bycosky Farm. The barn was covered with chestnut planks, as were the old corn crib and the chicken coop. (The barn still exists today) In addition to housing dozens of paper wasp nests and a few yellow jackets, the barn and abandoned chicken coop provided nesting sites for barn swallows and still a phoebe nest or two Oriental.

The eastern phoebe, about 7 inches (size of a bluebird) is a type of flycatcher. Flycatchers dart from a perch to catch an “insect”, while swallows fly back and forth across fields or bodies of water to catch insects in flight.

Phoebes are the most human-tolerant flycatcher species. In fact, they often nest under the eaves of cabins or under a rarely used back porch. A pair of phoebes on the farm usually nested on “Grandma’s” porch or just inside the unscreened window of the chicken coop. In those 10 years I have found at least one pair nesting there. I know they don’t live that long so I’m sure the offspring have returned to their birthplace.

Phoebes also nest under bridges, especially those that cross small streams. There they can find lots of insects and the moss they use for their nests. I visit three or four bridges in the Times News area each spring, knowing that I will find them again and again.

Phoebes, as a species of flycatcher, does just that; catch insects. They like to perch on a fence, fence post, or young tree to wait for a moth or other flying insect to appear. They fly away, catch the “bug” and return to the roost to eat. They often use this same perch for an hour or more. The reason I chose this column title is that phoebes are our first flycatcher species to return in the spring, often as early as the last days of March. They are adaptable. A few times when we had snowfall in April, I would find a small group of phoebes perched near a small stream catching the few insects that emerged there, as a few inches of snow covered the banks of the stream.

By October, when other flycatcher species have already returned to the tropics, many phoebes still “endure” until freezing temperatures kill most insects. I’m often entertained by a few nearby feeding phoebes as I climb a tree with my camera while enjoying the falling leaves and any wildlife that ventures into my path. I saw them until October 24.

Like many flycatcher species, they are a rather dull gray and difficult to distinguish from their cousins, but hopefully their repeated Fee Bee, Fee Bee call and slow, slow tail action will help you identify them. . Remember that to see and appreciate their singing and feeding, you have to go outside.

Test your outdoor knowledge: Not only does the 90 degree stretch bother me, but some local reptiles (turtles) will escape the scorching sun and sweltering heat by burrowing in soft ground or pond mud . This summer dormancy is called: A. relaxation, B. suspension, C. hibernation, D. aestivation.

Answer from last week’s quiz: The “don’t touch me” gets its nickname because after ripening, the seed pods burst when touched, expelling the seeds.

Contact Barry Reed at [email protected]

An eastern phoebe rests momentarily on a branch overlooking Wild Creek, seconds after catching a moth in the riparian vegetation. Seconds later, it took its prey for the young in its nest under a nearby bridge. BARRY REED / TIMES NEWS SPECIAL

Phoebes are rather unremarkable birds with light brown/greyish basal plumage and buff underparts. Look for the slowly moving tail as they perch to identify them. This one was photographed in October 2021 here in Carbon County.

The eastern tyrant has similar habits and habitats to phoebes. However, they are a richer gray color, have a white-edged tail, and nest in shrubs, not under bridges or eaves.

The phoebe’s nest is made mostly of mosses with some dried leaves intertwined to hold it together. When they find a large nesting area, they and then their offspring usually return to the same nesting site year after year.