Protecting Eastern phoebe's babies?

ctlady_gw

I'm new to this forum and apologize if this kind of question has been asked before...

For the second year, we have an Eastern Phoebe building a nest on the ledge/trim above our front door. It is a great site for her in many respects because the door is set back in a little alcove and the whole thing set back because the house is a Dutch Colonial with a deep overhang in front. HOWEVER... there is a wide bluestone stoop at the door. Last year, I believe virtually all her little ones fell out and died when they struck the bluestone step. I don't know if they crawled over the edge of the nest, or if they tried to fly, but I picked up four little carcasses over several days. We meant to put up a row of pebbles (which were there when we bought the house, I guess for this purpose?) on the ledge this year to discourage her, but didn't get to it before she started building.

So my question is this: is there something I can put on the bluestone beneath the nest to "catch" or otherwise soften the fall for fledgling Phoebes? I would really hate to see her lose another brood -- except for the bluestone (and the fact that we don't want to turn the outside lights on at night!) we enjoy having her around. She seems a very attentive mother (just not so good at picking housing sites). I don't want to intervene with nature too much, but imagine in the wild, there would be something soft underneath her nest, not an expanse of stone. What can (or should) I do to help her out, if anything?

Many thanks for your help!

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myrtle_59

I don't know the answer but we had a phoebe that nested in exactly the same spot over a door that had a porch roof over it. The porch was cement but we never found any dead baby phoebes on it. I wonder if something forced them out before they could fly?

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abbybirds

hmmm... maybe artificial grass? i know sometimes it seems a little tacky in certain places, but i suppose you could lay it underneath until nesting season is over. or maybe a softer welcome mat. or maybe a potted shrub you could place underneath (providing it is not too close to the nest so that nobody can climb up there and help themselves) and then move.

this is just me brainstorming. ha. good luck though!

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chickadeedeedee

Our Mourning Doves put two sticks together and call it a nest. We place a thick quilt under the tree when we know there are chicks. If they should fall the quilt will keep them warmer and soften their landing. Plus, it makes it much easier to give a quick glance if someone is out of the nest.

Maybe a large laundry basket with thick towels inside would look better (?) by the front door under their nest.

C3D :-)

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ctlady_gw

Wow -- great suggestions (thought about something like a blanket ... but not a basket) I have a large fiberglass planter (not too high, but wide) that's soft gray. I could fill it with towels (or even soft cedar mulch, which I need to get anyway) and put it underneath. It's definitely wide enough to catch anyone... and I could check it easily each day (hopefully before my cat does). (What do I do if I find someone in there?? Will Mama Phoebe take care of them, or should I put him/her back in the nest?)

Thanks again -- you guys are great!

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Elly_NJ

Were they feathered when you found them? Most E. phoebes nest under similar circumstances, and I'm wondering if the nest was raided. That happens.

Feathered chicks can and should be returned to the nest. Most birds (songbirds in particular) have no sense of smell and will not reject their healthy, gaping (open-mouthed, begging) chick! Fledglings leave the nest at 14-21 days (depending upon the species) and will follow parents, who will keep feeding them. If you find a well-feathered chick that can readily grasp a branch and stand tall, with more than a stub for a tail, place it in the nearest high bush or tree so momma and pappa can finish their jobs of raising them.

It is best, in all circumstances, not to linger near nests, because doing so leaves a scent trail for predators to follow. Phoebes nest under our eaves, so it's hard to avoind them, but what I mean is not to go up to the nest and look in. It calls attention to it, and creates a hazard for the eggs/chicks.

If you ever find a bird that needs help, this home page has an Emergency Bird FAQs that we members put together many years ago. In it is a link to common questions, such as yours, and Wildlife Rehabilitators, who are licensed and skilled in caring for injured and orphaned wildlife.

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ctlady_gw

Thanks, elly_nj! I will check out the Emergency Bird FAQ, so I know what to do in advance if it happens again. As far as I can recall, the little guys were feathered, but just barely. They were certainly quite dead when I found them, but I didn't see any physical damage such as you might see from a cat or some such (fortunately, my cat doesn't usually "do" birds ... and he certainly never noticed or bothered the dead babies). This year I will look more carefully for feathers and will research predators of the phoebe a bit more. I didn't see activity last year other than a very patient and diligent mom attending to the nest and the little ones (lots of little mouths visible over the nest rim, but then shortly after that, one at a time, we found them down on the stone). But we do live in the country and have all kinds of wildlife so it's quite possible.

Just as a question: when we bought this house, the top of the front door trim had a neat little row of pebbles lining it (looked quite ritualistic ... Druids? :) ... we had no idea why they were there, but now we think they were probably there to discourage nesting. Does anyone know if that is an effective measure (or if not, what is?) I love the phoebes and their song, but would prefer they nest down by the barn or even under a covered side porch than directly over the front door!

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Elly_NJ

Barely feathered is not ready to leave the nest : (. Not sure what happened there.

To prevent nesting (which I am not suggesting) you would have to prevent access : (.

If you think about it, though, the whole nesting process takes about 6 weeks, from egg laying to chicks leaving the nest. Not so long. They'll be gone before you know it!

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ctlady_gw

Oh I don't mind the nesting -- I love seeing and hearing them. I don't even mind not being able to turn on the front lights for several months (I love seeing her little form on the nest in the shadows at dusk, tail sticking out one end, head out the other and I just assume she would prefer not to have the lights on, although they do attract insects so perhaps I should be turning them ON instead of carefully leaving them off?). It's just that she is so MESSY -- this year is worse than last year and even last year, we had mud spatters on the front door and the glass side lights, bits of moss dangling everywhere (the screen door catches it particularly well!) ...and of course, droppings on the stone entry. Fortunately, most of our visitors use the side door anyway...So while I wouldn't dream of trying to move her once she starts, I would like her to encourage her to find another spot, like the side porch or the barn, or somewhere under the house overhang that isn't right over the [freshly painted white] front door ;)

Last year's nest was VERY neat -- quite beautifully constructed (though we still had the droppings and mud spatters and my husband did quite a bit of scrubbing after they left, particularly since we had JUST had the house painted!) This one looks like an amateur job so far (though she's still working on it). Which makes me curious: (a) is it likely to be the SAME bird(s) nesting again this year, and (b) is nest-building "talent" genetic, so some birds are just neater/better at it than others, just as some people are better organized/neater than others?

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Elly_NJ

a) Yes

b) I think it is a question of natural selection. The ones that are better at it reproduce, and the ones that are not good at it, don't.

But they re-use the same nest year after year and usually do not rebuild, so I am confused. Why is she rebuilding on an established nest? Touching up, perhaps?

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ctlady_gw

Oh dear. No, she has to rebuild because we took down her old one over the winter, planning to do something to discourage her from the site this spring ... but she beat us to the punch. If she gets this one into decent shape (now I feel bad!), I guess we'll just give up and let her have the spot. But it truly is a mess around it! (I wondered if the ledge was even really wide enough and maybe that's why the babies fell out? They just didn't have enough room to move once they started to move around?)

Here is a photo of our own little Jackson Pollock... is this the usual amount of "collateral spatter"? (all those spots on the sides and top are mud spatters)

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Connie Kru

Our phoebe's do not re-use their nest. They will build a new one on top of the old one, if you do not clean the shelf off.
I have seen one nest that must have been 7-8 nest high.

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Elly_NJ

Oh dear. Well, that is a bit of a mess.

They do reuse their nests. They have in the woods where I have lived, and we never cleaned them off.

I feel that if she is building in a poor spot and loses her eggs or chicks because of it, it is unfortunate, but not your doing. Many birds make poor decisions in nest building and then renest elsewhere. I do not think "helping" a cup nest is a good idea, personally, although it is sad to see any bird lose chicks!

If you do not want her to nest there, then you would have to put wire or something there to prevent her from building there; but that might create another spot for other birds less desirable, like House sparrows or starlings, who are willing to nest in crevices.

Not sure what to tell you! Except good luck!

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myrtle_59

I don't think the babies tried to fly. I think as someone else mentioned the nest was raided or some other calamity caused them to be pushed out of the nest.

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jeanner

I had a phoebe that nested on one of our downspouts every year ... then I put up a bird feeder and I think that might have discouraged her from rebuilding there. Wasn't intentional, but she did move farther away. Just a thought .....

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juniper01

I was viewing your picture of the nest, I had a similar problem and my husband built me a wooden platform that is 5" X 5" with 2" sides that he attached to the wood about 2" down from the wood on the trim with small metal angle irons and screws. I placed moss in it in case any falls took place. We took the platform down after nesting. It was painted the same color as the trim so it is not an eyesore. I do not live there anymore, so I have no pictures of it, but it saved many babies, the mother fed them there. Just a thought.

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4bakers_comcast_net

We have Phoebe nest over our front door. We have been avoiding this door so that they can continue without interruption. This morning we noticed that the nest was out of sorts and one of the eggs had fallen out and broke. We used a broom to push the nest back into a stable position but the mother has not returned. Is there anything we can do to help the eggs incubate and hatch? We are very upset that this has happened.

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Elly_NJ

You should never incubate wild bird eggs, as the hatchlings need very specific food the first days of their lives (to get their guts working). Also, wild birds need to be raised by their own kind in order to be wild. When people raise tiny baby birds (without conspecifics) the birds lose their healthy and natural fear of people, which leads them to trouble when they are released.

The adults will create another nest and eggs.

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bakers_2008

I did some more research and that's exactly what I found. I appreciate your quick response and I will let nature take over.

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trish_watcher

I've been wondering about the predators of Phoebes. We've had a pair that have returned about 3-4 years above our bay window, under the eaves. Usually they raise two families. This spring they showed up, laid eggs and were feeding the young until this week. Maybe the little ones have fledged, but for the last 4 days I've only seen and heard one adult Phoebe, calling almost constantly, sometimes briefly visiting the nest. Never further than about 60 feet from the nest. Four days ago, the adult was scolding a hairy woodpecker which was getting too close to the nest. While I watched, the woodpecker flew to the Phoebe nest. I made noise to scare it away, but since then have seen only this one adult. Is the Hairy Woodpecker a predator?

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Elly_NJ

I don't think Hairy woodpeckers eat nestling or fledgling phoebes. The Bluebird forum folk would know if they were nest predators. You can google it.

The chicks leave the nest after 15 days or so.

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deb437_yahoo_com

I have had Eastern Phoebes nesting on our front porch for the past three years. Last year and the year before, they raised two to three sets of babies. This year, their first set of babies died after a few days. They seemed to be doing fine, mom and dad were feeding them and then one day, I looked out the window and there was a baby hanging over the side of the nest dead. When I looked into the nest, the rest were gone - no trace of them. One of the phoebes perched on the roof of the porch calling for a day or so and then they built another nest on the other side of the porch. The same thing, babies were doing well and then I noticed that I didn't see mom or dad flying in to feed them. After a couple of days, I looked up there and all of the babies were dead and covered with mites. I don't know what is happening with the babies; but the day before I noticed that mom and dad were not feeding them, I saw one of them chasing away another bird that looked something like a starling. I have cleaned up both sites and we will see what happens next. I just don't understand what is happening - I have three very protective dogs, so I doubt that any land animals are raiding the nest. Does anyone know if starlings will raid phoebe nests?

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kevinbourinot_hotmail_com

My sister just called me with a similar problem with the phoebe nest on her deck. The first thing that came to my mind was the cowbird.

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned this notorious brood parasite. Even though the cowbirds most common host is the yellow warbler, the brown-headed cowbird often targets Eastern phoebes for its host. I've actually seen female cowbirds egg-dump phoebe nests. It's an extremely fast process. Now before people have evil thoughts towards the brown-headed cowbird, I have to say this: it's not the cowbirds fault...

Cowbirds evolved following roaming buffalo herds around, and therefore developed a breeding strategy (brood parasitism) that allowed them to do so. The cowbird used to be an uncommon species here in the northeast, but during the 17 and 1800s almost all forests were cut down for farmland. Since cowbirds are an open spaces/prairie species, this is the perfect habitat for them. They also like edge habitat (powerlines, forest edges etc.)

So, I told my sister to keep watching the nest for a cowbird chick. The young, a week or two along, should be larger, louder and healthier by far than the others. It's more agressive behavior as a nestling makes it sure that it gets fed at the expense (often fatal) of the others. So if the young in a nest all look and sound the same, chances are it "cowbird-free."

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chichiflys_comcast_net

We had an Eastern Phoebe nest built under our deck that recently fell to the ground. The mother was very upset and so was I. Quickly, I found a box and a tea towel and got the crumpled nest and babies back as one and then perched the box high under the deck in a spot she frequently had visited before the tragedy. Within an hour, she and the father found the babies. We have watched them for a week and they have been busy taking care of them with food. I was hoping to get a better look at their progress in order to share their development with the kids. I peered over the top of the box to get a quick picture and was delighted to see everyone alert and eyes were open. They still had downy on them. As I took a picture (with a flash, since it was dark), it scared them all and they flew away. I was very shocked and then I was quickly sadenned especially when the mom returned with food to find no one there. I could have died! I am so concerned about those birds and what I've caused to have happen. If anyone has any insight into this type of scenario, I would appreciate your thoughts, especially if there is ANYTHING positive from this.

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leeneejo_me_com

Yesterday morning I found our Phoebe's nest had blown off the little ledge under the eaves in our entry. Nothing was in the nest, but scouting around, i found the little birds in two different places. I gathered them up and put them in the nest and the nest in a tree. The next day they were gone. However, Mama and Papa Phoebe were calling and calling and flying close to where the nest had been. I saw some movement under a little patch of greenery, and there was one baby flapping it's little wings as it moved. I could not continue to watch since I cannot see them without opening the front door, and the parents get terribly upset with me when I have the door open. Now I have discovered the babies found their way to each other, and are cuddled together in a corner (on the cement) near my door. Mama and Papa are calling and watching. I assume they are feeding them. I don't know what to do to help them,.. They have feathers, and short little wings, but don't look like they are ready to fly. What do I know, I'm a human! :)

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lisa11310

Arlene and Paige. Parents can hear their babies and will continue to feed them. It sounds like premature fledging or "fear fledging" happened but if they left the nest and would not stay after being returned there is not much you can do. Parent birds will guide babies to "safe" spots and care for them until they can fly. Baby birds grow at amazing rates and as few as a day or two can have them ready to fly. I had one nest of Chipping Sparrows jump out as I returned a baby to the nest. I put them in a 5 gal bucket with the nest and hung it in the tree the nest was in, they all fledged 2 days later.

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HU-992536220

It looks like this forum hasn't been active for awhile now, but I just wanted to leave a comment for future visitors. What's happening to those poor phoebe babies is they're being attacked by bird mites. The mites live off baby bird blood (and adults)--often the babies can survive it, but if the infestation is too heavy, the birds will either jump out of the nest or die in the nest itself. It's just heartbreaking to see such a horrible thing happen to such young creatures. I'm going to contact the Humane Society for information on how best to help any future babies without harming them. I will try to post what I find out soon!

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RoseAngela Merritt

Anyone know why a phoebe would throw the nestlings out?????? I’m thinking that the male is doing it. I dont know. It’s bizarre & sad. I’ve put them back In & the bird keeps throwing them out. These 2 phoebes have spent most of today fighting each other.... 3 of the 5 remain. 2 have died (due to being thrown out)

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Chelsea Samperi

This is the second year in a row that an Eastern Phoebe has nested under our deck. Last year, everything went smoothly. There were 2 broods I believe, and everyone survived! However, this year has been much different. About a month ago I saw an Eastern Phoebe hanging around more often and checked the nest and found 5 eggs! 2 days ago, I went to see if anyone was hatching and there were 3 dead babies on the concrete below the nest, they were probably born that day. Then the following day (yesterday) the remaining 2 babies were also dead on the ground. So, all 5 of the babies were either kicked out of the nest or fell out. But I believe they were thrown out because we have surveillance cameras and we saw a Phoebe fly into the nest and a couple of minutes they were on the ground. Also, for the past few days, there has been a Phoebe (I'm not sure if it is male or female) singing loudly pretty much all day long on our roof and porch. Could something have happened to the mom bird, and the dad has been trying to care for the babies?

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Susan Camp

I have had the same problem last year and this year. Yesterday their were two babies on my porch floor. They had feathers and healthy. I gathered and place them back in the nest. I left for awhile and when I returned they were on the floor dead. This morning two more were on the floor dead. I think different nest. No mites to be seen. I have 3 nests on the front porch. I will throw away nests after season is over. They will rebuild 2 or 3 in the spring. My theory is adult bird competitiveness among at least 2 of the nests are killing them. Please help. Love birds. I have 2 Bluebird boxes and no problem with them. Also, feed hummingbirds!

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