Posts Tagged phoebe

I could a feather unfold

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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Simple Sunday.


We tried to discourage this nest. Three times we knocked it down, four times the phoebes built it back.

Little unfledged chick twitching on the cement Saturday evening; not good, but not dead, so we pushed her back into the nest. Sunday, evolution reiterated the case. Weakest of the four, end of the road for one phoebe; phoebe-hood for the other three still on track. Species go!

Saved for a day.

Rescue butt.

90% sleep, 10% eat. Soon they will fledge and trade sleep for twitch: the phoebe cry and the jerky tail. And they will in turn make nests, in inappropriate places.

Just asleep.

Between meals.

Two inches of headroom, apparently, is enough.

Head room.

Good choice.

We used to run a halogen par-38 in this fixture. Way too hot to touch: hard-boiled bird. Compact fluorescent, barely warm, like a substitute mother. Good, because mom has to fly off for a while every time we go in or out the door.

Site specifics

CFL bulb. Imagine the hard boil of a halogen.

Someday one of the series: knitted shawls taken from moth wings. We’re building a portfolio.


Shawl template.

When good outhouses develop attitude. Past using now, but you can’t knock it over. Suffering from a structurally enfeebled right edge on the ground, that’s the problem digging with a back hoe. Shovel and bucket, you can get hospital corners. Probably a tea party thing, didn’t want to be seen supporting something that got half its stability from the left. A shame: sealed joints, screened crescent, heat lamp, reading light, vent, front porch, full roof overhang. Fine work.

Lit, heated, vented.

Right leaning.

The white birches in the middle were six-inch seedlings when we planted them thirty-six years ago. The house grew for a few years, too. But the birches kept on.

Loom center/center.

The house stopped, the trees kept on growing.

Appalachia has briar patches, too. But the signature entanglement is the laurel thicket. It’s just 10 yards from the road. But it’s half a mile deep. Deep woods woven shade. Easy to get in.

Mountain laurel.

Innocent edge of a laurel thicket.

The committe assembles on the 600-volt feeder. Good place for watching the blueberries (we’ll be finished soon) and safe from the return line or the ground. But can they feel the pulse between their toes?


Taking a meeting.

In a bucket on the porch, all stages, up the curve and down, are beautiful. Power flowers.

Staged beauties.

Consider the lilies. Or the marigolds.

That was a good break: fifteen storey climb and back. But I’ve got the final 148 pages of edits to process. Ghost Walk isn’t going to finish itself. But there is an end in sight. Press self firmly into chair, lift your hands, and wrap it up.


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