eastern phoebe

WaterLine photo by Capt. Josh Olive

This eastern phoebe is snacking on a spider, one of its favorite prey items.

The Venice Area Birding Association (VABA) takes a break from regular birding field trips during the scorching Florida summer. The weather is way too hot and humid for us older-ish folks. Some of us still do a lot of car birding and backyard birding. As I may have mentioned once or twice, birders are always birding.

Often in the car I will shout out, “Look at that red-tailed hawk!” or, “Did you see that roseate spoonbill?” Don, who is always driving, will ask, “Do you want me to turn around?” And sometimes I do, when the sighting is something really special. It’s the best way to see birds in the summer.

At home, I have been watching an eastern phoebe that has been regularly visiting my beautiful pink Anderson hibiscus tree. There’s also a flycatcher, which has been hawking for insects from a limb high in the tree. I am entertained by him until the phoebe arrives in the late afternoon.

I usually hear him before I see him. The phoebe calls his name — FEE-BEE, FEE-BEE — in a high-pitched voice. This is one of the easily recognizable bird calls. I watch as the phoebe gives a flick of his tail and takes off to snag his prey. I am equal parts excited to see this charming bird and sad to see my butterflies snatched up for an afternoon meal.

I recall hearing quite a few years ago that songbirds visit about five feeding destinations a day. Whether this is true or not, I really can’t say. However, I do know that a phoebe must travel hither and yon to find food. Their food is mostly dragonflies, butterflies, wasps, moths, spiders and such. On occasion they will eat small fruit.

The eastern phoebe likes to be in wooded areas near water. If this particular bird is nesting in the woods behind my house, then he has chosen the perfect area. The female usually finds a nest site that will be protected from the elements — perhaps in the corner of your porch or your roof’s eaves. She will build a nest of mud and leaves and moss. The male just stands by and watches. I guess he is supervising. Some of these nests are used again and again.

Phoebes lay two to four eggs. The incubation will be about 15 days. Once the eggs are laid, the female doesn’t seem to want the male around any more. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t do much. She will feed and vigilantly protect her young.


I have never seen a phoebe at a feeder. It’s just as well, since the cardinals, blue jays, tufted titmice and red-winged blackbirds barely leave anything for other birds to eat.

There are also adorable, cute and perky Carolina wrens in the yard. Their “tea-kettle, tea-kettle,” call is unique to this little bird. This little bird is quite recognizable with its bright rusty coloring and perky uplifted tail.

I often see a flurry of activity in a hanging plant, which turns out to be the wren picking at insects. It mostly will be searching out insects or fruits to eat. This is another predator of butterfly caterpillars. Oh, well — the survival of the fittest, right? After the young have fledged, you may see the group out and about, all feeding together.

Tufted titmice are also seen in family groups at the feeders. These tiny birds are here all year. They are very cute, with their little peaked crests and shiny dark eyes. They quickly fly to the feeders, grab a seed and run. I would imagine they are always worried about that red-shouldered hawk that may be lurking in the trees. There will be a moment of furious activity flying back and forth grabbing oiler seeds — and then they all disappear.

At this point the cardinals and blue jays fight for feeder space. The blue jays are so large they have great trouble on my feeders. They must be very klutzy, as the common grackles have no problem standing on the bar and cleaning out as much seed as they want.

All birds must take courses in weather prediction. Right before any large storm, all our feathered friends seem to be in a feeding frenzy. Elsa was no different, and they seemed to know even before the prediction of a hurricane arrival started flashing on every television station. I don’t need Jim Cantore. I’ll watch the birds — they know best.

Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.

Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.

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