I feel a little disillusioned at the moment. My ‘perceived fidelity of Eastern Phoebes’ bubble has been challenged. But let’s back up…
For many years a pair of Eastern Phoebes has nested on the rather small top of an outdoor light under the eaves at the front of the house. They arrive quite early in the year and seem to raise at least two, if not three, nests each year. They appear to be a devoted couple. Occasionally, both would perch together on the telephone wire just off the end of the house. They’re difficult to photograph because the house is shaded by trees for most of the day.
All I can see is the tail of the female sitting the eggs.
I’ll see at least one bird, whom I’ve believed to be a lone male, feverishly flying back and forth. On the way from the nest, perching on one of the nearby perches – the upright of our firewood stack frame, or a wire …
In the shade, or …
enjoying a minute In the late afternoon sun.
And sometimes perching again briefly on the way back into the nest with an insect in its mouth.
Anyway… back to my ‘fidelity’ bubble. Now as I research them, I find that, while many pairs are monogamous, the apparent domestic harmony may just be a terrible lie. The female may chase the male away from the nest until the eggs have hatched. A second male may mate with the female while the ‘first’ male is raising the chicks and the second nest may be anothers chicks. It’s worse than a soap opera.
I have to say that I’ve never seen more than two phoebes around here and I’d like to think that ‘our’ pair are monogamous but I guess I’m going to be observing them more closely in the future.
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- The Cornell Institute of Ornithology - All About Birds: Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
- Wild Bird Watching: Eastern Phoebe
- Sibley, DA: The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. National Audubon Society. Alfred A Knopf, New York.