Pennsylvania Game News - July 2017 - 64
Shelter for Shelter
F YOU LIVE anywhere except downtown Philadelphia or
Pittsburgh, there's a good chance you've offered shelter to
phoebes. Your gesture might not have been intentional, but
these spunky flycatchers likely have taken advantage of your
Except for the noted urban zones, Eastern phoebes live
in uniform abundance throughout the state. They're best
known for their call, a crisply voiced Fee-bee, and their
readiness to nest under the shelter of man-made structures.
Around my place they've adopted my outbuildings, picnic pavilion and woodshed as their own accommodations. They are expert at finding some niche under
eaves, overhangs or on a stacked wedge of firewood. It's in such cozy spots that
phoebe pairs build a neat cup of moss and mud.
If I'm tardy placing obstacles to discourage them, they'll even nest on the
undersides of the seats of my overturned canoes on their rack in the yard. More
than once I have postponed a paddle outing until the phoebes fledged.
Phoebes earn their keep, though, snatching mosquitos, gnats and flies on the
wing throughout their stay. Except for inside my canoes, I'm pleased to offer
phoebes shelter. But I never expected they'd return the favor.
One summer, a surprise storm assailed the rocky hollow where I sought the
brook trout that held in the pools of a plunging run. I leaned my rod into laurel,
noting its location, then scrambled to a ledge that offered shelter. As I stooped
to enter the gloom under that sandstone shelf, a small grayish bird flushed from
the chamber and disappeared into the rain-pummeled foliage.
I waited out a tempest of rain, gale and lightning strikes so near I could feel the
air buzz, damp but safe in "my" grotto. After it slacked, I was about to venture
out when that familiar Fee-bee call pealed from just outside. A moment later, a
phoebe flew into the shallow cave and perched near its ceiling.
It was then that I noticed the nest, a tidy cup of moss and bark balanced atop
a rib of rock beneath the sheltering ledge. Both phoebe parents made repeated
trips inside to perch on the nest and feed their young as I huddled, fixed and
awed, nearby across that clammy space. One bird, the male I presume, sometimes
perched outside and called while the other parent nourished their brood.
While both birds were away, I slipped out of their hillside cavern feeling
thankful. I'd been gifted a glimpse into the lives of phoebes as they were before
our construction of barns, bridges and backyard sheds, and as their lives remain
in remote woods.