April 4, 2010

Birding: Home again for the eastern phoebe


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The eastern phoebe likes to have several perches within its nesting territory. They find beetles delicious – also wasps, ants, grasshoppers and flies – and make doting parents.

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Eastern phoebes are industrious parents. It is normal for a pair to raise two broods in a summer. Each brood usually has five babies, although broods as high as eight have been reported. Unfortunately, phoebes are often the victims of female brown-headed cowbirds, which lay a cowbird egg in a phoebe nest, fooling the phoebes into raising a greedy cowbird chick along with their own chicks.

Data from the Breeding Bird Survey (begun in 1966) indicate that eastern phoebe populations are holding their own. The overall density of this species is highest in the New England states.

The species winters from Virginia to Texas and eastern Mexico. The center of the wintering population is in eastern Texas and the panhandle of Florida.

The replacement of square concrete culverts and small wooden bridges with circular, corrugated metal pipes has made such sites unusable for nesting. Biologists have discovered that flat nesting platforms placed in circular culverts are readily accepted as nest sites by eastern phoebes.

Herb Wilson teaches ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at:


Previous columns and other information on Maine birding can be found at his blog:


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