by Ann Faison
Two days ago I was standing on my front lawn with a telephoto lens trying to catch a good shot of a black phoebe that had made the FOR LEASE sign on our lawn its permanent perch. Black phoebes are members of the “tyrant flycatcher’ family, a term I use on my husband sometimes. He likes to catch flies in his hand and tends toward the tyrannical in his weaker moments. But I love him anyway and it’s handy having a vermin hunter in the house.
As I stood on the lawn waiting patiently for my shot I realized the high pitched tweets I had heard all morning outside my window were her fledglings in the bushes next to the house. The black phoebe was catching flies and darting into the bushes before resuming her perch. I went inside so I could spy on her activity through my window and sure enough there was a fluffy black phoebe right there, crying as it waited for her beak to stuff food into his. As I watched her darting back and forth I felt her stress. The worry of locating the others who I could hear but not see and the constant looking at the sky for predators. I noticed her partner on another branch standing by. He seemed to be taking it all in but not helping much. Who knows? Maybe he was on hawk watch or keeping track of the kids. But I didn’t see him glancing up at the sky the way she was. He would disappear for a while and then return, empty handed.
Later the same afternoon I heard a sound outside my studio and discovered yet another mother feeding her young. It was a scrub jay tapping her big strong beak on the wooden garden box and feeding the bugs that scurried out to her still slightly downy youngster. The mother bird flew away maybe to let him try it for himself or to get him another kind of food. I watched the young jay wait and cry intermittently for her return. She didn’t and I got the distinct feeling that she wouldn’t. He was almost her size. It was time for him to fend for himself. I watched him jump nervously around the garden, looking scared when other birds would come near. He yawned anxiously the way all animals do and kept looking around wondering what was next.
I was still in bed yesterday when I saw a large black shape fly by the window. I said, “What was that?” to Dave and he said, “What?” I have noticed a couple of ravens hanging around the yard for the last few days and had wondered what they were doing. A moment later we watched as the raven swooped in and grabbed a baby mourning dove out of it’s nest. No doubt his mother was out looking for breakfast.
I love birds and sometimes I wish I could fly and live in trees and make my own house out of stuff I find lying around. But I don’t envy the mother bird. Being a mother is stressful for most species I think, but as I watched that black phoebe multitask and the scrub jay leave her youngster and thought about the mourning dove coming home to find all her babies lives stolen, I was forced to see how easy my life is.