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The phoebes who nest under our porch roof successfully raised two clutches of four eggs each this spring and summer.

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31 May – Here are the first four chicks, almost ready to fledge.

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23 June – Three weeks after the picture above was taken, we saw four new eggs in the same nest (which, incidentally, the mother built on top of an earlier nest, as phoebes are wont to do).

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3 July – Phoebe chicks are altricial, meaning they require a lot of care – they lack fuzz when they’re first hatched, cannot even open their eyes, and need lots of food provided solely by the parent(s). The opposite of altricial is precocial: these are chicks that hatch with lots of down on them, the ability to see and walk and – to a certain extent – find their own food. Precocial chicks still need care, especially when it comes to keeping warm.
Precocial birds tend to be water and land birds (such as ducks, turkeys, and chickens). Birds of prey and most songbirds have altricial young.

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14 July – The chicks look very different, with eyes open and real feathers. Yet both parents are nearby, hunting insects for their young.

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18 July – The four chicks fledged (took their first flight) the very next day, abandoning the nest for the year. You can see their droppings streaked the beam under the nest; the floor of the little porch was covered in bird droppings right under the nest. Most birds practice some kind of method to keep the nest hygienic: some parents will gather the waste and fly away with it, some will take membrane-encased fecal sacs directly from the chicks’ bottoms and fly away with it, and many chicks will simply hang their tails out the side of the nest to let their droppings fall below, as here.

The nest will remain empty for the next 3/4 of a year, as birds only use nests to lay eggs and raise their young; adult birds will sleep as they perch. And the phoebes, of course, will leave for warmer climes come fall, unlike the chickadees and titmice, who must survive Vermont winters.

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