Thursday, January 5, 2017

Love is a Black Phoebe

Black Phoebes won my attention when we moved to an apartment complex during our home remodel several years ago. I discovered a park next door and decided to spend an hour each day observing and writing about nature . I sat under a sycamore tree in late summer and waited.

Above my head, a black bird cleaned its beak. Then it flew to a lamp post and off into the ivy behind me. Each day for a week, I observed this fellow in action. One day I brought a seed bell and hung it under the bird's sycamore branch thinking I'd attract even more of its friends.

I searched the internet and discovered the Black Phoebe fit the description of the behavior I had observed. My seed bell must have caused a snicker in the bird community since these birds only eat and catch insects on the fly. 

Called hawking, they fly from from sunrise to sunset eating all day with the tenacity of a hummingbird. I've seen them capture bees and moths for dining pleasure.

Phoebes move in a circular pattern in their territory and work harder than anyone I know. In the spring, they pair and create a nest from mud, one beakful at a time. The male stands guard and often sits the nest in rotation with his mate. 

I discovered the conical nest high in the eaves of our apartment building. The next stage involved nesting behaviors. Resident crows became aggressive causing both phoebes to take turns chasing them causing disruption to their feeding ritual. I heard peepings but could not see how many chicks had arrived. Unfortunately, I left on a trip for two weeks.

Upon my return to the park, I did not see the pair I'd named Flash and Fee. The nest appeared vacant and no peepings sounded. I felt a sudden fear that the crows had taken over during my absence. 

Then I looked at the center of the park to discover four phoebes. They took turns dancing on air. I crept closer and watched this marvel of flight training for fledglings.

After returning to our renovated home, I searched the neighborhood for Black Phoebes. I missed this daily association. I discovered a pair at the end of the block. They had placed their nest under a neighbor's eaves. Once again I left town and missed the fledging.

I continue to create water sources in my yard to attract my favorite Black Phoebes. One day a breeding pair will arrive to capture my fascination.

A flash at the corner of my eye greets me most days. A Phoebe calls my attention to a moment's detail then flees into the blue.

I call him Flash Fleetwing,
a bird to train in my hand,
yet he’d never permit it.
Fred Astairing the breeze he
plucks food on the fly.
Dressed to kill in charcoal waistcoat,
inverted V white bib,
probably monogrammed,
he thrills air.
Sycamore branch to lamppost,
he mocks gravity and breeze
who skirmish for his attention.
My whistling swivels his head.  
Top feathers go crewcut,
insistent with pheep, pheep. pheep.
Birders say he protects his territory
when he zooms me that way. 
What do they know of friendship?
                               - Penny Wilkes

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