All birds are odd ducks, as much as all ducks are odd birds.
But phoebes are especially peculiar, especially in their persistence,
and the placement of their nests.

This is nest number one, House Phoebe’s nest, above the dining room door.
She’s built here before, usually on top of the bulb.
That never worked well when the exterior spotlight was a halogen
hot enough to hard-cook the eggs and the mother.

But the pig-tailed compact florescent glowed merely warm and she liked that.
This year she returned to work alongside the fixture,
at the top of the door frame.

The nest would have sealed the doorway shut — if we capitulated to the bird.
Each time we opened it, we knocked off the bottom of the nest.
She’d scold for a few minutes, then rebuild.
Every time we broke it, she’d fix it, in exactly the same place.

The rag and dowel was an engineered compromise.
She knew how much support she needed from underneath,
and the dowel was good.
Her eggs hatched and fledged and flew last week.

But she’s checking the nest again, as does her mate, every few minutes.
She won’t set if we’re in sight, even from inside the glass door.
She flits from branch to branch of the hornbeam across the road,
her tail twitches constantly, twitches somehow in a circle.

There’s probably a new clutch underway.

Eastern Phoebe

Meanwhile, phoebe nest number two is affixed to the handle of our safe.
It was never clear why we acquired a 1300 pound steel and cement safe,
back in Cambridge, Massatussets, back in the day. But we did.

Never clear either why we had to haul it down to our warehouse
in Upper Spring Creek, North Carolina. But we did.

The safe sat by the door, doing nothing, serving no purpose, for 35 years
— until Warehouse Phoebe chose its handle to mount her nest upon.

It began with a few twigs and sprigs gummed together with bird spit and mud,
perched on top of the right-hand door handle.

Gradually, she built higher and wider and deeper.

Until, one day, like a magic trick, one egg appeared.

As a week passed, five eggs, each one perfect as the first.

Some dozen or sixteen days of sitting before, more magic,
five tiny callow creatures pecked through their shells,
bare but for a whisper of down.

The males reappear to help with feeding,
while the chicks grow out some feathers,
even with a little nest-setting;
but mostly, as with the building of the nest, it’s mother’s work.

She flies away from the chicks, as she flew from the eggs,
whenever we come into the building,
returning as we leave.

Probably she’d fight us if we showed any malign intent towards her brood.
But best otherwise to keep herself safe,
their only protector on this earth,
as on airplanes adult humans fix their own masks first.

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