The Phoebe Family: Empty-Nesters – or Not?

I’ve enjoyed hosting a family of phoebes, a species of flycatchers, on the parsonage porch. I noticed them one day in May trying to build a nest on an impossibly narrow ledge under a corner of the porch ceiling. So I cut a triangular piece of corrugated cardboard and fastened it there. Within an hour, they were busy building their nest on this makeshift platform. Soon Mrs. Phoebe was sitting on her eggs. Before very long, both she and Mr. Phoebe were busy feeding their hatchlings all day long. Some warm weather in early June made the porch pretty hot, and one afternoon I could see a hatchling with its head resting against the edge of the nest in an open-beaked daze. But the weather cooled and they survived. Like a loaf of bread puffing up in the oven, the mass of baby birds kept rising higher above the top of the nest, constantly jostling. I wondered just how many small flying insects it took to grow these little birds. But I do know I’ve not been bothered by mosquitos anywhere near the house so far this summer. Caroline was here with me for this part of the drama. We watched and wondered when the crowding would get to be too much, or if the babies would just start spilling out of the nest. One day we decided to help them by putting a staging area near the nest, a place to flutter to. Caroline carried a small step-ladder to lean against the wall near the nest. But as she approached, all four baby phoebes bolted from the nest at once. Being flycatchers, I guess they were expert fliers from the start, because there was no fluttering around, just very competent flight. While three of them headed out into the open, one of them flew into the house through the door we had left open. But didn’t take long for me to chase it out to join the others. Knowing that some of our families at Durham Friends are moving into that empty-nest phase of life, I thought I would tell a story of successful transition. But wait – there’s more! A week or so later, I noticed a bird sitting in the nest again. At first I assumed it was one of the young phoebes. Perhaps a phoebe version of today’s millennials coming back to live with their parents, into their 30s. But now I think it’s Mrs. Phoebe. Could she be sitting on another batch of eggs? I thought birds raised only one family per year. Or is she experiencing empty nest denial? She’s still there as I write. Stay tuned. Doug Gwyn