On this occasion, May 11th, sharp notes being issued by the phoebe parents alerted me to a change. The phoebe nestlings had fledged and were perched all around the yard, mostly on oak limbs in the center of the yard. This, of course, excited me. In three nesting seasons of two broods each season, I had never had the joy of seeing a phoebe fledgling until that moment. Witnessing this event is a chance occurrence, especially when the nest is high over your head, and out of observation range.
I searched for the nestlings by watching for movement and the parent's behavior. Now that I knew the young had fledged, I couldn't be fooled into thinking that all phoebe shapes were the adults. I found the youngsters, three, at least, possibly four. They appeared to have different levels of maturity and flight experience, so I guessed that at least one, maybe two had fledged the day before.
This was one time I truly wished for a digiscope. The distance was out of range for my lens, but the images will at least give you an idea of the events that transpired. The male phoebe, erecting every feather possible to look menacing, issued loud, sharp warning chirps. The bluebird gave him his full attention, but did not budge from his perch. This prompted the phoebe's aggression and he commenced diving.
This male bluebird is clearly tough, determined, has nerves of steel. The male phoebe was defending fledged young, alarmed/angered by the closeness of the bluebird. I say angered because these two birds know each other. They share the same perching area and they've disagreed before. The male bluebird, obviously just as determined as the phoebe, held an unyielding posture on his perch.
Below, you see the bluebird, far left, and the phoebe, far right, as they face each other before the phoebe begins another series of dives. (Click the image to enlarge). Sharp chirps are coming from the phoebe. The bluebird is silent, stoic, alert.
At one point, right in the middle of a series of phoebe dives, a curious robin landed on a limb behind the bluebird at eye-level and began 'heckling' with the familiar thrush-y cackling noises that American Robins frequently make. The male bluebird did not seem to appreciate this and wheeled around giving the robin the threatening stare shown in the image below. The robin left shortly thereafter.
The phoebe's aggression in this incident was understandable, given the presence of newly fledged young. Even so, it came as a surprise to me, since these birds are around each other daily and share the same perching area. But what surprised me even more, the unyielding determination of the bluebird male as he defended his right to stay on the perch that he and his mate use routinely. He showed no avoidance, no moving away, no flinching as he faced the dives and only rose to meet a close encounter.
In hindsight, given that these families will likely continue to be neighbors, I can see how standing his ground was an important defense of his nesting territory.
This is the sixth post in a series on this bluebird family. To see all of the posts visit the link, bluebird family. In Wishing Upon a Bluebird, an initial encounter between nest building phoebes and bluebirds is described at Vickie's Sketchbook. I will be sharing more about this relationship between neighbors soon.
For articles leading up to the story on this post, visit my Wild Birds Unlimited articles: Smitten with Bluebirds and April Celebrations. And to see last season's chickadee family, visit the Secretive Chickadee Family and A Happy Fledging Time of Year.
Upcoming: Bluebirds Love Water, and wing-waving in bluebird communication.