Phoebes are friendly song birds who like to nest close to humans. Perhaps they discovered that they can take advantage of the fear we instill in other birds to protect their nests and young. They risk choosing the wrong humans when they build so close, but it must work for them because they continue to do it. This particular pair of phoebes has built a nest for several years on the yard light beside one of our doors.
While it was sweet to have baby phoebes so close, having the birds there became a problem. The constant fluttering as they came and went from the nest to feed the young attracted the attention of our six house cats. The cats would climb the screen door trying to catch the birds. When I found the screen partially dislodged and within seconds of allowing the cats out, I knew we had to keep the door closed. Then the cats proceeded to climb the curtain over the window in the door. I had to take the curtain down. Very aggravating, especially since I’d like to leave the door open on nice days to cool the house and catch the breeze.
Last fall I decided the nest had to move. During the winter I searched until I found this solid aluminum shower shelf. It was under $7 with shipping. In March I secured it to the house under the eaves far enough from the door so the cats would no longer see the birds. Then I blocked off the area over the lights to prevent the birds from building there. Phoebes build a large, heavy nest using clay mud. They line it with soft moss, grass, hair and feathers. This complicated nest takes a lot of effort so the birds return every year to the same nest, repairing it when necessary.
I didn’t want to destroy all their work. I moved the nest to the new shelf. It would be interesting to see if the birds accepted the new location of their nest, built a new nest or went off somewhere else to live. In early April the birds came back. It seemed to ruffle their feathers to find the nest moved. After a bit I noticed them hanging around the new location. Then late last week I found mother phoebe on the nest.
It’s wonderful to have the birds nearby and still be able to keep the door open. Phoebes like to have two broods per year so they hang around for most of the summer. I will enjoy watching the baby birds grow up without worrying about the cats tearing the door apart.
The phoebes are busy with their little family, on top of the floodlight beside our back door. It is cute and sweet and endearing to have them as tenants, but I sure wish they’d leave already! So happy to see the young ones nearly fledged. The Eastern Phoebe is a friendly bird that likes to nest near people. They build under eaves to protect the nest from rain since the female uses a great quantity of mud for construction. Nesting close to humans must help protect the young from attack by more shy animals.
Unfortunately, having birds so close to the house makes the cats crazy. For a good part of the spring, the door must be kept closed or the cats climb the screen trying to catch the birds. And the birds yell at the cats incessantly. Keeping the door closed all the time is an inconvenience. I’d love to open it and let the spring breezes flow through the house. Since the birds are quite territorial, it is also aggravating to hang up laundry. The clothes lines are apparently way too close for the birds’ comfort (maybe 15-20 feet away.) They scold and squawk every time we put out the wash. Hey, birds, you picked the spot, quit your fussing!
One fall I took down the nest, hoping that would dissuade the birds from returning. No good. The female busily built again in the spring. This year, she tried to nest beside the front door. Luckily, I caught her early before she did much building and blocked the area. So she went up back and reused her old nest.
These little flycatchers are nice to have around since they prey on wasps, mosquitoes and black flies. It’s fun to see the babies up close and to listen to the adults say their name as they call. You can always spot the phoebe by the way its tail bobs as it perches. Plus, at our house, it’s the bird yelling at you and swooping close. The adult sexes appear very similar, although the male is slightly larger and darker than the female. I believe the male is in the photo on the left.
Only the female builds the nest and she is quite a little architect. She piles on clay mud and lines the nest with soft moss and fluff the dogs shed. Both parents struggle to catch enough bugs to feed everyone. While the babies grow, the parents spend the entire day catching insects and bringing them to the nest. The bad news about phoebes is they like to have two broods per year. So the tantalizing of cats and annoying of humans will likely continue here for at least another month.