Missouri birds|Eastern Phoebe

I knew something was amiss when the dogs refused to go out after whining at the door for ten minutes. I looked out and saw a couple of wood bees patrolling the deck but was sure this wasn’t holding my dogs back.

I stepped just into the threshold and immediately hear, “Fee-bee! Chirp. Chortle. Fee-bee!”, and I was hearing it in stereo. One step out of the door and I was between a pair of very angry little birds. They came flying in from both sides and were just inches from my face, having as big of a fit as any half ounce bird can muster.

This was obviously a mated pair and I had likely just stepped between them and their young. It seemed the only explanation for their aggressive behavior.

I didn’t immediately see a nest and stepped back into the house. The dogs just look at me like, “See.”

Poor guys. I had to wonder how long they had been experiencing this kind of assault.

Meet the Eastern Phoebes or Sayornis phoebe
Family: Tyrannidae (flycatchers) in the order Passeriformes

The Eastern Phoebe typically doesn’t live in Missouri year-round but rather migrates into the state around early March. They hang out here until early October when they begin their migration south, sometimes as far as Mexico.

These little ones prefer to live in locations close to trees and brush where the female can gather most material needed nesting and there are plenty of branches and twigs on which to perch and hunt for bugs.

Classified as songbirds and flycatchers they only reach a length of up to seven inches, rarely weigh over a half an ounce, but eat their weight in winged insects, daily.

Their diet includes, mosquitos, wasps, beetles (including weevils and cucumber beetles), moths and butterflies, dragonflies, and midges and other true flies, plus spiders, centipedes, and ticks. They also eat a small amount of fruits and seeds.

The female will build the nest and lay up to two clutches per season with 2-6 eggs per clutch. Nests are built under the eves of houses, in the rafters of outbuildings, or just about anywhere with a guarded overhang. Materials commonly used for nesting are grass, moss, mud, and animal hair. Nests can take up to two weeks to build and are typically less than 15 feet off the ground.

I waited a couple of hours and decided to try letting the dogs out again. When I opened the door it was the same rush of feathers and crazy chirping. I had to step completely out on the deck to get the tiny birds to retreat so my dogs would come out of the house.

Who knew a half ounce bird could scare the bejeebers out of 85 and 65 pound dogs in such a manor? I have to admit, as small as they are, these tiny birds are intimidating.

It didn’t take long to spy the nest after momma and daddy retreated to the trees and fence line long enough for me to have a look around.

Just atop the outdoor light fixture, right beside the door, was a perfect little home.

When I first looked I thought there were only two fledglings in the nest but I didn’t really have a good view. After retrieving a ladder I was able to get a better shot at which time I discovered there were actually three.

I just cannot believe they all fit.

Incubation period on Eastern Phoebe eggs is 15-16 days. Nestling period is 16-20 days. I guesstimate these wee ones to be about 10-12 days old. I’ll do the math when they leave the nest and let you know.

Interesting facts about the Eastern Phoebe:

  • Eastern Phoebes often reuse nests or nests are used by other birds. The Eastern Phoebe will also reconstruct old nests that other birds have abandoned.
  • The oldest known Eastern Phoebe was at least 10 years. Banded in Iowa in 1979, it was later found in 1989 in Alberta.
  • In 1804 the Eastern Phoebe was the first banded bird in North America. John James Audubon attached silvered thread to an Eastern Phoebe’s leg to track its return in later years.

I encourage you to learn more about these fascinating birds at The Missouri Department of Conservation or at All about Birds @ Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell even has this real cool page where you can hear the call of the Eastern Phoebe.

Links included should take you directly to information on the Eastern Phoebe.


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