Outdoor memories last a lifetime. It was on a field trip to Gwen Frostic’s outdoor nature studio, in Benzonia, west of Traverse City, that provided an interesting experience with an Eastern Phoebe. I was on a busman’s holiday, from my job as a State Park ranger, at Traverse State Park in the late 1960’s.
Gwen had screened in studios, where she painted her wonderful post cards and stationary, as well as wrote penetrating prose. If you have not experienced her wor, it will be a joyous outing this summer to visit. The natural beauty of her inspirational property offers others respite long after her passing.
Our group walked the boardwalks in June observing birds flit among shrubs and trees. Some mosquitoes brightened the day for hungry birds and filled their stomachs. We wore lightweight long sleeved shirts and used insect repellent as we visitors traversed the nature niches where a variety of life made home.
Birds thrive in habitats where insects live. One cannot expect birds where food is not abundant for feeding young. Even seed eating species raise young on an insect diet.
We came upon a screen shelter that was temporarily closed to access because an Eastern Phoebe constructed a nest on top of the door. Mike Jarea noticed a mosquito biting an almost grown young phoebe on top of its head. To help the young bird, he used his finger to kill the mosquito. When he did, five young birds prematurely left the nest. They were almost able to fly but not quite.
The two of us quickly gathered the birds and placed them back in the nest. I placed my hands over the birds until they calmed. Slowly I removed my hands and the birds remained huddled in the nest. What did not stay in the nest were hundreds of bird lice that blackened my hands.
Nests are dangerous places for birds but they are essential for their rearing. The sooner they leave the better they are able begin caring for themselves. Once able to minimally fly, they often fledge. Parents continue to feed them away from the nest, as well as teach them where and how to look for food.
When fledglings venture off on their own, they continue to depend on parents. The parents are not often seen, but they are in the area much like mother deer are in the area to return to couple times a day to feed fawns. Some people think they are rescuing orphaned young when, in reality, they are taking them away from caring parents and reducing young survival chances.
Sometimes young are orphaned because adults were killed by cars, cats, or some other event. It is best to leave apparent orphans where they are found, because there is a better chance that adults will return.
I brushed the massive black lice from my hands and was happy we were able to secure the birds in the nest to fledge another day. I suspect Mike learned to allow the mosquito its minute feast. It would be less dangerous to survival than the chicks leaving the nest prematurely. It is wonderful to observe animals from a safe distance in a manner that does not disrupt the lives.
An Eastern Phoebe has nested in our carport annually for 35 years. I wonder how many generations of birds succeeded one another. Normally they live only a few years and would be fortunate to reach an age 7, give a take a years. We disturb them when we approach the carport but it doesn’t cause them to move elsewhere for a new nest site. It is necessary to only pull the car part way into the carport for a few weeks when young are present. The young raise the rears to the edge of the nest and defecate. They cover our car hood with corrosive turds. We enjoy their presence and willingness to share space with us, so we do not remove the nest. Instead we take joy in seeing them daily.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.
Written for CS Post, Vol. 28 No. 23. 11 June 2015.
Submitted: ? June 2015