April 28, 2004
Prewitt Cove, Grove, OK

     Tiny little peeps were coming from somewhere within the small cedar tree behind my mobile home on the bank of Grand Lake O' the Cherokees.  I had just searched the tree earlier that day for a nest in case one of the returning migrants had built one in there.  Now I am hearing peeps after finding no nest??

     I stood for a long time and slowly circled the tree, step by step, perusing each branch from every angle until I had looked at it all.  No nest, just peeps.

     An Eastern Phoebe flew in very quietly with a bug in her beak.  She went in low.... very low, and came out without a bug in her beak.  I looked again at about the level where she seemed to have gone, peering through the lacy branches just a foot-and-a-half above the ground.  There, sitting on that low branch, together in their peeping, were two downy Eastern Phoebe chicks, darker across the crown and back, their yellow gapes just shining in the waning sunlight.  As I drew closer to get a good look at them in the shadows, they became very still, no peeping.  The parent bird was again overhead, waiting to feed some more, so I had to leave.  But I felt that there was more to see.... how far along are the feathers? what color was the underside? was there a third chick somewhere closeby? how long were their tails?? and I had questions.  Where is the nest they came from?  Why were they so close to the ground where predating mammals could find them?  In my experience, phoebes usually nest over an outdoor light or in the outdoor garage where my landlady parks her car.  How did they both get in the same tree if they came from one of the nearby buildings?  Guess I will not get answers from these little guys.  It was more important that they be fed, so I grudgingly left with the questions still buzzing in my brain.  Tomorrow I shall have to see if they are still in that tree, or I may have to follow the peeping to wherever they will move in the morning light.

April 30, 2004
Prewitt Cove, Grove, OK

     There is some benefit to not raking all your leaves and burning them.  Under the cedar tree that held the two baby Eastern Phoebes the other day, is a whole passel of leaves from the oak and walnut trees overhead.  Also some tufts of very high grass that I did not reach with my mower this week.

     Finding the leaves jumping around in several different places today, I stopped!!!!! and watched.  Pretty soon, I could identify three baby Carolina Wrens in there, well protected by the layers of leaves and their coloration, a deep cinnamon color, with the usual eye-line common to the species.

     Here came three adult birds, fluttering down to poke food into the leaves and then climb the thin trunks of the small trees beginning their life back there in that untended flower bed.  The babies fluttered but little and tried to climb the tree trunks after the adults, but did not get very high and seemed not yet strong enough to stay aloft on the bark.  Falling back to the cushion of leaves, they burrowed under just enough for me to see only their beaks poking out, and their sounds were soft.... like "here I am" calls that adult birds throw back and forth to one another when in close proximity in a bush or tree.  Since I was in the vicinity, the adult birds (one was pretty small but had as long a tail as the other two) seemed excitable and I gave up watching.  It seemed that they were spending time watching and fussing at me which they could put to better use by feeding and watching their babies grow.

     Never did see the Eastern Phoebes and their young again.  There are bushes and trees across the lawn that they might have migrated to and, of course, in two days' time, they could be in the BIG woods 'way across the open space.

     Sitting at my computer, I can hear the "tea-kettle, tea-kettle" call of the Carolina Wrens in back of the mobile.  I was privileged to encounter the family at a critical time in their life cycle.  I can see the wee ones in my mind's eye.... don't have to be intrusive to do that.

     I love that cedar tree!!

May 1, 2004
Prewitt Cove, Grove, OK

     Much peeping.... must go see what is going on!!  Out the back door window, I can see five teeny Eastern Phoebes perched on a dog leash which just hits the edge of the porch as it goes off into the yard.  Five little phoebes with a small white plop beneath each one, all peeping in unison as a parent wings in and feeds one of them on the wing.  (She does not land at all.)

     I ran to get the camera and returned to find one baby flying off into the grass.  Shortly another followed until there was only one left on the wire.  Opening the door did not faze him and I got off a couple of shots.  Probably the most prominent thing in the picture is the five white plops where they were all perched a few minutes ago.

     Evidently, the bird I was seeing this morning in the rain WAS the phoebe, and now that the rain and all that awful wind has disappeared, the family is out and about.  The young fly really well, skimming in the air for quite a distance before they whirrrr to the ground at the next mobile.  They have added three to their numbers since I first saw two of them a few days ago.

     I have been back to see the birds several times in the last half-hour and they have all come back to the wire on the porch, one by one.  I can look down on them from the window.  I'm having to let the dog out the front door so the babies will not be disturbed.  They are still being fed by one or the other parent.  Looking at their feathering, etc., I can see that one tail facing me is about two inches long, so even though they look very tiny and their gape is still very yellow and bulbous-looking, they have really grown in the past three days.  What a treat to have them right at my fingertips!

     One cannot help but bird when one has ears!!!!


     The wee five phoebes have remained on the back porch all afternoon and evening, being fed by two adults about every 20-30 seconds.  Sometimes when the insect is particularly large and leggy, one baby will get half and another will get the other half.  In this case, the adult perches briefly to poke the bug in both gapes although generally she or he just hovers and drops the bug into the gape mid-air.  Each of the birds seems to get his share; no one bird seems to be favored by the adults.

     One of the times a bug was dropped into a gape, the next thing that happened was the baby scooted back very quickly as though he had an itch.  He did!! for shortly, he left a small white plop on the porch.  Scooting backward was the way he did it in the nest, scooting back to the edge so as not to soil his space, and clearly, that instinct was still at work.  In a second, he scooted his brother over so he would not be right on top of his own plop.  Very funny, these birds.

     As evening progressed, I was beginning to worry that the birds would just stay on the porch all night and be prey for whatever prowled at night.  They were huddling closer together as the temperature dropped, but were out in the open and I found that worrisome.

     The last time I saw them being fed was at 7:45 p.m.  When I went by the window at 7:50, they were gone.  Checking outside for their begging sounds, I found them waaayyyy up in the walnut trees, still being fed but certainly out of harm's way.

     It's getting dark now; they'll be going to sleep soon.

May 2, 2004
Prewitt Cove, Grove, OK

     Sometime in the night I was lying abed, thinking about camouflage and WHY the wee birds were perched in the open yesterday.  The weathered wood of the back porch was the exact color of the birds' feathers.  So who knew to perch them there? the babies or their parents??

     I have watched Mississippi Kite parents hold food in a beak to entice young birds to climb higher and higher in a tree, strengthening muscles and exercising wings for balance.  There's a lot they know instinctively that we don't know they know.


     Prowling around the mobile next door, I caught glimpses of parent phoebes glomming onto small insects and then zooming them around the corner or over the roof.  I walked around and around, trying to see where they were going, but no luck.  Being the persistent bird that I am, I finally saw three babies, obviously dispersed from their togetherness in the tall tree, and difficult for the parents to take care of.  One was perched on the edge of the roof, one on a stair rail, and one on a decorative bell at the edge of the porch.  There was not much feeding going on but the young ones were obviously finding some of their own food.  I never did find the other two but I'm sure that they, too, are perched somewhere, perhaps invisible in a bush.  I feel sure they are safe and on their way to growing into the Eastern Phoebes who will return next Spring for me to chase with my binoculars and watch while their little ones peep endlessly for parental attention.


     The young Eastern Phoebes I have been writing about lately are perched on the electrical wire behind my mobile.  They fly to and from the branches of trees, flycatching as they go.  Very skilled at that.  Still peeping for a handout, though.
(c) Bill Horn, www.birdsofoklahoma.net
used with permission; all rights reserved
(c) Vicki Hatfield 2004