Winter Flycatcher

Top Photo: Eastern phoebe sits atop finial on umbrella at Main Wetlands Overlook.

It’s a common sight on the museum outdoor loop, a phoebe perched atop a twig, branch, light post, railing, or just about any other object which affords a clear view of passing airborne insects. Eastern phoebes eat insects and catch the vast majority of them on the wing.

Perched atop mast of remote control sailboat.
Boardwalk railing offers good views of open habitat.

They’ve been observed eating fruit when available, like mulberries in spring and wax myrtle, holly, and even poison ivy in winter. Their ability to digest fruit may allow phoebes to stay further north than other flycatching birds during the cold months. Though some retreat to warmer climates, I’ve observed phoebes here at the museum in every month of the year.

This phoebe utilizes telltale pole at sailboat pond.

Even though insect activity decreases drastically in winter, there’s more going on than most people may be aware. Relatively warm microclimates allow for some insects to become active in winter. Phoebes take advantage of these mini insect emergences to increase their winter protein intake.

Searching the wetlands for emerging flying insects.
Light rain in the wetlands.

Eastern phoebes have nested alongside the museum’s wetlands each of the fourteen years that I’ve been here. Typically, they nest out of view on a ledge under the boardwalk, though one year they chose a spot easily viewed by all. The birds built a nest on a ledge at the top of a wall leading to a vending area in Explore the Wild. The pair fledged four birds that year.

Incubating eggs in the vending area of Explore the Wild.
These four fledged the next day.

Look for the gray-brown eastern phoebe perched on a bare branch, pole or overlook anywhere along our outdoor exhibit area, especially near the edges of the wetlands.

Keep a lookout for our phoebes whenever you’re on the outdoor loop.

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