Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Freya & the Phoebes

I know this is floraphile, but occasionally I have to report on fauna.  
A pair of Eastern phoebes set up housekeeping in the eaves just above my office window, a circumstance both enchanting and stressful.  
The nest:  a sturdy structure mostly of mud.
Being flycatchers, Phoebes go from perch, to a quick flit, to a mouthful of insects in seconds.  They are like bats without the nighttime equipment, or swallows minus the acrobatic soaring.  Phoebes are small, unassuming birds, but doughty.  One afternoon I saw a mockingbird uncomfortably near the nest going through its repertoire of aggressive calls.  Undaunted, the phoebe planted himself just feet from the mockingbird, his tiny chest hugely puffed out.
The redoubtable phoebe outside my window.
The stressful bit has been my cat Freya’s too-avid interest in the birds.  Sitting transfixed in the window seat is acceptable; climbing the screen to get a closer look is too much. 
Tireless ornithologist?  I think not.
Bad animal.
As a deterrent I kept a spray bottle on the desk, but Freya just couldn’t help herself.  A phoebe would come flying in and she’d be up the screen like a caged monkey.  I’d squirt Freya and she’d run into the hall, where she’d regard me with hard-eyed outrage.
They call me The Enforcer.
I was afraid that the birds might abandon the nest, so Freya was banished from my office.  She now lodges her complaints at the closed door.  Alternately Freya assures me that she just wants to put the phoebes in her mouth.  Just for a minute.  No harm done.   
For a time I couldn’t see the mother’s tail poking out from the nest, nor did I hear any babies.  I feared the worst.   So it was with great relief that I saw the parents, their beaks stuffed with insects, fly into the nest, and then heard the screechy delight of baby birds.