The phoebes fledged. Three young ones left the nest last week.
The catbirds and the barn swallows and the house wrens weren’t so lucky. All of them lost nests in the big wind of June 17. The catbird nest was shaken out of a low bush, and the eggs were spilled on the ground.
The barn swallow nest was knocked down when a big cottonwood tree fell against the house. No worries for us. The only damage to our house was a bent downspout and a few shingles.
The wrens chose to leave a birdhouse I had hung for them.
Birds are resilient, however.
By afternoon, both Suezette and I noticed the catbird pair had become extraordinarily familiar with each other, bowing and preening, even “kissing,” Suezette insisted. They were starting over, renewing their pair bond and preparing to build a new nest. Their second effort is in a more secure place. Judging by their behavior, they’ve relocated to a much sturdier evergreen tree, and they’ve moved much deeper into the boughs.
The barn swallows lost no time in rebuilding, either. The storm produced a substantial amount of rain at our place west of Gilby, N.D., and the swallows took advantage of the resulting mud. A dozen or more of them began ferrying this versatile building material to nest sites. They appeared to work together, strengthening the impression the swallows form a community. Individual nests are separated by distance, but the birds appear to act together, especially in this crisis that cost some of them their nests.
The fate of the wrens remains a mystery. The birdhouse they’d chosen might not have been the most appropriate. It was a metal figure of a bird with a hole in the breast, below the bill. I hung it in the garden. Wrens moved in, filled it with sticks and appeared to be nesting there.
I watched as the birdhouse was flung about by the wind, and I wasn’t surprised the wrens moved on.
House wrens are adaptable when it comes to nest sites. All they need is a tight cavity. I’ve seen them nest in the open ends of clotheslines and in drier vents. I’m confident this pair found a convenient spot and moved into it.
The phoebes survived not by chance but because they had chosen the safer nest site, above a door leading from the porch on the north side of the house into our laundry room. We never use the door, so the birds seldom are disturbed.
What’s more, the door is at the junction of the front deck and the garage. These form an ell. The deck is covered, and the ell is in the darkest corner. The sunlight never reaches it, and the sky is never visible.
That makes it attractive to phoebes.
A pair of barn swallows originally occupied the site. They were displaced by the phoebes the next spring, however, and phoebes have nested there successfully for at least half a dozen years.
The displacement isn’t a surprise. Phoebes and barn swallows choose similar nesting sites, against vertical surfaces protected by overhangs, often enough under the soffit of our houses, but sometimes also along stream banks and inside buildings.
Phoebes had an important advantage in appropriating the nest. They returned from migration earlier than swallows, and they had begun modifying the nest to their own specifications by the time the barn swallows arrived.
They had squatter’s rights, in other words.
Barn swallows are aggressive birds, however, and they might have driven the phoebes away. They chose not to, I think because they didn’t really value the site. It was too confined for swallows and too dark.
Swallows like more open spots. They want shade and protection from the rain, of course, but the sky is their natural realm, and they want quick access.
Phoebes like wooded areas nearby. They’re happy in dimmer places.
As it happens, the phoebes appropriated the swallow nest after they themselves were displaced. A pair of robins took over the phoebe spot on one of our outbuildings. Phoebes are much smaller than robins and yielded the place.
The swallow nest was available, and the phoebes quickly adapted it to their own specifications. They made the nest more substantial, deeper and tighter. The substrate may be the swallows’ work, but the modifications are pure phoebe.
Phoebes have become important denizens of our front yard, and we’ve become quite fond of them, appreciating the silky plainness of their plumage and the distinctive calls from which they take their name.