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The Buzz

The Story of Eastern Phoebes, a Suspect Raccoon and a Rebirth




Every day in the preserves, natural selection and the cycle of life are carrying on and, oftentimes, people see it firsthand.

For example, there was the time a frog met its demise courtesy of a great blue heron. And we can't forget about the time a water snake was caught feasting on a catfish. Sometimes this cycle hits very close to home. As in right outside our windows or above our front door.

The latest example comes from Plum Creek Nature Center, where some Eastern Phoebes had built a nest on the side of the building. It was early June and the pair had succeeded in rearing some nestlings. 

These birds would keep interpretive naturalist Kate Caldwell company while she was working the compost bins at the nature center. But only days into these nestlings' new lives, things would take a terrible turn.

After leading a group of bat monitors one evening, Caldwell noticed a raccoon hanging around the building.

"We saw him investigating the garbage cans," she said. "A few minutes later, he rambled in the direction of the compost trail, following along the building."

The raccoon was looking for a meal and after arriving back to work the next day, it appeared that it found one. The nest, tucked just under the eaves of the roof, had been knocked down. The phoebe hatchlings were gone and there were some claw marks up the side of the building.

"The raccoon may have eaten them," Caldwell said. "But we'll never know."

True, but that trash panda is a prime suspect considering it was lurking about at the scene of the crime in search of a meal just hours before.

Later that day, Caldwell spotted a pair of birds building a new nest outside the nature center, just around the corner from the original. 

"Was it the same pair of birds that worked so hard in May to bring their eggs to the point of hatchlings only to see it all end in vain?" she said. "I don’t know for sure, but I can guess. Yes."

It's a very strong possibility considering the new construction began a day after the murderous rampage. After the nest was completed, the phoebe laid her eggs. And following 16 days of incubation, this new crew pictured above was born.

Eastern Phoebe facts

  • Females take 3-13 days to build a nest while the male watches from a distance.
  • Mud, grass and moss is the preferred building material.
  • The nestling phase lasts 15-18 days. The fledgling phase, when they follow their parents around but continue to live in the nest, will continue for up to three weeks.
  • They commonly build nests on eaves of buildings.

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