This is a phoebe. We have four resident phoebes at HQ (that we know of), and they’re my favorites.
They look simple, grey and white. They like to perch low to the ground on branches or trellises or even the tops of plants that stick up from the grass. They swing their tails all the time when they’re sitting, like they can’t help fidgeting. And they’re pretty slick flyers. They’re a type of flycatcher, and they catch their insect prey in midair, often swooping and hovering before returning to the same perch they started on. Ours have been catching a lot of moths lately, so we can see the pale powdery wings sticking out of their beaks when they land before the phoebes thrash them dead and gulp them down.
They’re not particularly rare birds, coexisting with people well in the country. That’s part of what I like so much about them. This is the second year I’ve had a pair (the same pair?) nesting in the rafters of my garden shed. Last year I got to watch them raise two clutches of young, and though the adults dart out whenever I walk in, they don’t seem to mind sharing the space with me. This seems particularly remarkable as one of the things I often do in that shed is light the smoker I use with my bees, often getting the place pretty smokey before I head off for my hives. Last year, I remember the babies getting so big that they could barely still fit in the nest, their butts hanging off over the edges, before they finally took off on their own. This year, they’re using the same nest, giving it an early spring remodel before settling in.
Our new pair has made a nest in the light fixture right above our front door. Normally I’d say that was a bad idea, either because we’re likely to bother them too much, or them bother us (apparently swallows have nested there before, which like to dive bomb peoples’ heads when they’re nesting; not a good thing above a front door). But the shed sharing has been so peaceful, I’m not worried.
The pair by the garden shed are my almost constant companions while I’m outside working. Not only do we pass each other as we go in and out of the shed, but their favorite perches are on the steer fencing we use as trellises for our peas and tomatoes. They don’t like to perch too close to me, but their flashy insect catching flights often split the distance between us. I enjoy their company.