Two years ago a pair of Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) successfully raised two broods on my porch. Three juveniles from the first brood fledged in May (only two show in the picture), and four fledged in July.
Last year momma Phoebe started re-building the nest but then just stopped and I never saw more than one Phoebe around the yard again that summer. I suspect one of the pair died and the other bird didn’t find a new mate in time for breeding. (Note: I only know it was momma building because all the references I found state that only momma builds the nest)
This month a Phoebe tried to get the nest going again, she made a huge mess along the whole porch trying to get mud to stick for a stable base. The ledge the nest clings to and the fledglings are sitting on in the photos above, is just shy of two inches deep so it isnt easy to get the nest started. The moss and pine needles would stick to the mud at first but then fall off as she tried to enlarge it.
With the big mess she was making I decided I needed to either block her from the whole length of the porch or give her a helping hand. I decided to help her out by adding a 1x1x6 inch wood block enlarging the ledge. The block was added on the 19th and two days later she had her nest finished and ready to go. Oh and the porch is staying clean now, any mess should be confined to the far end away from the stairs and door.
I kept trying to see if she had laid eggs by using a mirror attached to a pole, but every time I went to look she was in the nest. Not wanting to disturb her I didn’t scare her away but I kept checking on her a few times every day.
Finally today on my way back inside from a trip to the store momma was not on the nest. Although I didn’t see her, I bet she was taking a break from incubation to catch some yummy flying bugs. Quickly grabbing my mirror to check, I found she’s laid 5 eggs! Looks like I’m in for a fun spring and summer watching these great little birds raise a couple families.
General information on the Eastern Phoebe
- Chipper Woods Bird Observatory
- All About Birds – Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- Animal Diversity Web
- Bird Houses 101
Interesting journal articles I found at The Searchable Ornithological Research Archive
- Unusual Actions of a Phoebe (Sayornis Phoebe), H. H. Brimley, Auk: Vol. 51, No. 2, April-June, 1934
- Nesting Habits of the Eastern Phoebe, Wendell P. Smith, Auk: Vol. 59, No. 3, July-September, 1942
- Eastern Phoebes Fishing, Laurence C. Binford, Auk: Vol. 74, No. 2, April-June, 1957
- Frog Captures a Fledgling Eastern Phoebe, Ted R. Anderson, Auk: Vol. 82, No. 2, April-June, 1965
- Eastern Phoebe Nesting in Old Barn Swallow Nest, Harmon P.Weeks Jr., Wilson Bulletin: Vol. 82, No. 4, October-December, 1970
- Abnormal Nest Building in the Eastern Phoebe, Harmon P.Weeks Jr., Auk: Vol. 94, No. 2, April-June, 1977
- Nest Reciprocity in Eastern Phoebes and Barn Swallows, Harmon P.Weeks Jr., Wilson Bulletin: Vol. 89, No. 4, October-December, 1977
- Nesting Ecology Of The Eastern Phoebe In Southern Indiana, Harmon P.Weeks Jr., Wilson Bulletin: Vol. 91, No. 3, July-September, 1979
- Breeding Biology of Eastern Phoebes in Northern Wisconsin, Craig A. Faanes, Wilson Bulletin: Vol. 92, No. 1, January-March, 1980
- Unusual Nest Attentiveness of An Eastern Phoebe, Helmut C. Mueller, Nancy S. Mueller, Kenneth D. Meyer, Journal of Field Ornithology: Vol. 53, No. 4, Autumn, 1982
- An Exceptionally Tall Eastern Phoebe Nest, James R. Hill III, Wilson Bulletin: Vol. 99, No. 3, July-September, 1987
- Relationship Of Age And Sex To Size And Color Of Eastern Phoebes Kelvin F. Conrad, Raleigh J. Robertson, (Wilson Bulletin: Vol. 105, No. 4, October-December, 1993
- Pre-Laying Nest Roosting In The Eastern Phoebe: An Energy-Conserving Behavior?, Harmon P.Weeks Jr., Journal of Field Ornithology: Vol. 65, No. 1, Winter, 1994
- Breeding Patterns Of Eastern Phoebes In Kansas: Adaptive Strategies Or Physiological Constraint?, Michael T. Murphy, Auk: Vol. 111, No. 3, July-September, 1994
- Frequency of Extrapair Young Increases in Second Broods of Eastern Phoebes, Kelvin F. Conrad, Raleigh J. Robertson, Peter T. Boag, Auk: Vol. 115, No. 2, April-June, 1998