2017-05-31 / Columns

Just Plain Amazing!

by Dan Stiles Wildlife Biologist

About four weeks ago, a pair of phoebes (mostly the female) were in the process of constructing a nest on our cabin’s porch. Unfortunately, the nest was being built upon a coiled electric wire, wrapped round and round, and hung on a long nail. The electric wire brought electricity from the generator on the porch inside the cabin. So, whenever we needed electricity, the nest within the coiled-up wire would be destroyed. I hated to do it, and as best I could, I let the phoebes know I was trying to be helpful, and suggested they were welcome to consider most any other convenient spot on the side of the cabin to build their nest. I moved the electric wire, uncoiled it and thereby destroyed the beginnings of their nest. The phoebes let me know that they didn’t approve of my helpfulness one bit!

When you think about it, phoebes are fly catchers, and superbly equipped to pursue and catch in their pointed beak an erratically flying, dodging insect. However, wouldn’t you think it was poorly equipped to build a nest on the vertical, flat side of a building? They have no container to transport nest material, no ladder to stand on, no hands to tamp down and shape the nest, and they have to fly in place, like a hummingbird, while building. Their only tool is a fly catcher’s unique, sharp pointed beak to carry nest building material, and somehow make it adhere to a vertical surface.

Even after destroying their partially built nest, the pair stayed around the cabin, chirping their alarm call whenever I appeared. With a growing accumulation of nest building material on the floor of the porch, it was apparent that this pair was determined to rebuild their nest in the exact, same spot where the coiled electric wire had been. This time, however, they were trying to build it on the lengthy protruding nail! A half pail full of nest building material accumulated on the floor beneath their preferred spot, proving it was difficult to build their nest on a protruding nail, but they seemed determined to keep trying.

A few days ago, I returned to the cabin, and a brand new completed phoebe nest appeared, with the head of a nail showing through it all. It took them four weeks to get the job done, and although the pair don’t like me one bit, I admire their determination and persistence. It seems to me that it’s another example where we humans shake our heads at the wonder and resilience of the inhabitants of the natural world.

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