Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sign of Spring #4: The Return of Old Friends

Low: 31° F
High: 52° F
Conditions: calm with unlimited sunshine
Growing up, I went through a lot of phases: like the period when I refused to take a bath unless I was wearing a stocking cap shaped like one an elf might wear, or the one when I insisted on hanging a spoon from my nose at the dinner table. But one of the most beguiling of these phases was when, as a third or fourth grader, I insisted that my entire family call me Phoebe. And far be it from me to stop there. Oh, no. We would all be called Phoebe. And it would be Phoebe Phoebe, should anyone require a surname, thank you very much.

As far as I know, the caninaturalist has never gone through a developmental stage as strange as this. There was the time when she insisted that she became an uncatchable, wild coyote whenever she bolted from the house. But as best as I can tell, she retained her given name even when gallivanting about the forest surrounding our house.

I was somewhat surprised, then, when she showed the same nostalgic interest as I did in one of our most cherished temperate-weather visitors: Sayornis phoebe, also know as the Eastern Phoebe.

I have lots of reasons to love this bird. In addition to my pre-pubescent alter-ego moniker, our phoebes also share a lot of homemaking memories. A mating pair arrived at our little log cabin the same summer Greg and I did. As we were negotiating where to put the ice cream bowls and book shelves, the two phoebes were building a nest on a beam tucked just below the roof near our front porch.

Since that first season, they’ve returned each year around this time. They spend a few weeks sprucing up the old nest and reclaiming hunting perches, then they get down to the business of egg laying and chick rearing. We humans are so enchanted with their little domestic life that we don’t even mind the white streaks that quickly dot our vehicles, or the fact that we have to use the basement door to enter our house after the kids are born.

Mouse and Leila Tov—our two rescue cats—have their own reasons for loving the return of the phoebes. The birds regularly spend inclement days hunkering down on our front porch, where only a single pane of glass separates them from the watchful eyes of feline predators. As I write this post, both cats are stealthily becoming reacquainted with Mamma Phoebe, who is renovating her house under their watchful (and hungry?) eye.

It makes good sense to me that these cats would be captivated. But why does Ari so love these birds? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. She barely gives chickadees and goldfinches a second glance. She only likes robins when she can chase them. But phoebes command her respect and attention. Maybe it’s because they have the same tell-tale tail wag as the caninaturalist. Or because they line their nests with some of her favorite things, like moss and husky hair. Or because they catch those same insects that plague her and truncate our walks when I’ve forgotten my bug dope.

I’ll never really know for sure. But I am certain of one thing: we are very happy to see that they have returned.


Khyra The Siberian Husky said...

Bekhause Ari knows your name from a previous life!

We khanines are khlever!!

Even if we do want to be khoyotes and have our pawrents lure us from the wilds with SNAKHKS!!!

Glad your avian family has returned -


China said...

We have a couple of birdhouses on our garage and every year we get the Phoebes too.

They sometimes like to dive-bomb China's head when she walks by. Maybe that's why Ari keeps an eye on them. :)

Anonymous said...

Lucky you! What a treat to get to watch Ma and Pa Phoebe raise their brood. Isn't this weather a treat? Soon the gunk will dry up and become dirt.


dmitri said...

Does the name Phoebe relate to the Greek god of the sun, music, and poetry? Phoebus Apollo? Or am I completely off my perch here? I too have slept in a nest full of moss and jindo hair. I'm not sure it's the healthiest situation. Rather gritty and moist.

Farmgirl_dk: said...

You? Really?? An elf hat??? Nice! Phoebe, huh? I was Tina. But just Tina. Not Tina Tina, or anything like that. I've never heard of a bird called a Phoebe. In German, Phoebe is pronounced "Fer-beh". :-)

Me & my puppies said...

Funny LW is going through a phase right now, she insists we call her princess! Welcome home to your feathered friends.

Lorenza said...

My mom says that everyone has had at least one of those phases in life!
We saw a nest near to our house and it had little birdies!
Kisses and hugs

umekotyan said...

Good evening Ari.
Also in Japan, the swallow builds the nest under the eaves in the
It is this season just.
And, excrement and the grass are discovered to fall in one's feet. :)

from loved ume tyan

John Theberge said...

A couple of years ago I had a pair of phoebes build a nest in the addition I'm working on. It didn't have a door yet so they flew inside and built a nest between the rafters. I went in there as little as possible so I wouldn't disturb them and then I put a door up after they were finished nesting. The flower in my post yesterday was a bearded iris but it kind of resembles a pansy in the abstracted version.

JB's Big World said...

Mouse and Leila have a good perch there! We will see you again upon my mom's return.....I am crying already...

YourFireAnt said...

I suspect that Ari likes the phoebes because she senses you like the phoebes.

Dogs are empathic and clairvoyant, I'm convinced.


Marigold said...

The goatmother had phoebes in CA. Of course we don't have any here and she misses them. Do yours flick their tails up and down? So cute! - well, for a bird that is.

The Army of Four said...

Ooooh, Ari! I posted a head shot of me today that looks very similar! And you can see one of my "old friends" through my ear sights. Hee hee hee. Stop on by.

Eve said...

I love to hear the phoebe this time of year. We also have the willow flycatcher which says fitz-bew!!! They are both so fun to have around...although none have nested under my porch...Yet!!! Good luck to the happy family and not to the sweet kittys who would love to get out!!

Gus and Louie said...

Dogs just love to watch birds. They just wish they could get close enough to them to play with..

Dad took some pictures last night but he left the camera in the truck and he isn't home.. We will have to post them tomorrow..

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus and Louie

Anonymous said...

I loved the story of your younger self and how it lead to your guests on the front porch. I know the entertainment it provides is priceless.

Mary said...

What a pretty little bird. Missy and Raffles are not bird watchers and they ignore the small birds in the garden, but if a pigeon or magpie lands they rush to the window barking. Now they do pay attention to the food on the bird table and will spend time trying to reach it.

Kapp pack said...

Very interesting! We have little birds outside our dining room windows!

Woo woo, KA

Indy said...

That is odd, I always try to chase birds, even geese, which mom says would kick my butt. Of course Ari is uncatchable when she bolts, that's her Husky side!

The phoebe bird is very pretty!

The Daily Echo said...

Maybe Ari has less than sincere motives. I mean really - I am still waiting for one of our birds to fly a tad too low through our yard. It's just that primitive prey drive kicking in! Keeps life interesting.

Southbay Girl said...

Ari, Your cats do what my cats do-stare at birds from the inside!!!!