Friday, June 3, 2016

Phoebe, Phoebe, you little passerine

Drawing of Eastern Phoebe

Just found out that my drawing of the Eastern Phoebe, Sayornis phoebe, has been accepted for the 2016 Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI) Annual Online exhibit.  The exhibit runs for 6 weeks from July 1 to August 12 at the website.  After that, it will be archived on the GNSI website.  This same drawing also appears in the Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City, and I am proud that it was chosen to be part of the exhibit.  A pair of Eastern Phoebes nested on an overhang on the back deck of my (soon-to-be ex-) house in New Paltz/Gardiner.  I watched the nest as it was built with bits of leaves, dryer lint, grass, and mud; saw the bright white eggs; heard the squeaks of the newly hatched birds, and watched the parents take turns feeding and caring for their young.  I even watched as the parents sat on a nearby railing calling in their raspy voices “phoebe, phoebe” to the babies to encourage them to try their wings.  Watching the little ones make their first flights was an unforgettable thrill.  A lot of websites say that Eastern Phoebes are known as loners who usually do not raise their young together, but the ones that I watched did not follow that pattern.  They were together at least until the little ones left the nest.  That might have been the end of their affair too.   

Eastern Phoebes are small flycatchers that many people like because they migrate early and are a good sign of spring.  Audubon is said to have banded an Eastern Phoebe with a piece of silvered thread in 1804 making it the first or one of the first banded birds in North America.  Eastern Phoebes are in the passerine family—a family that is known their toe arrangement: four toes—three facing forward and one backward, joining the foot at the same level.  This configuration helps them to perch.  By the way, more than half of the world’s birds are passerines, so if you look closely at the sparrows, finches, robins, and other commonly seen songbirds, you will see that type of toe arrangement.

I’ve read that they often reuse their nests, but it won’t happen at my house in New Paltz.  After the little ones had fledged, a bad storm knocked it down and some little animal pulled it apart, thankfully in vain.  No one was home.

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