Feathered Phantom

The secretive, beautiful green heron finds a summer home in these parts

By Susan Campbell

Think of a heron and a tall, lanky wader comes to mind. However, the green heron is quite a different animal! This stocky bird is about the size of a crow with relatively short yellow legs. But it does have a dark, dagger-like bill and a handsome, velvety-green back, dark cap and chestnut-colored body. And in true heron form, it moves slowly and deliberately, hunting in and around the water’s edge. Because of this slow-motion lifestyle, this bird is often overlooked. When it flushes from thick vegetation or croaks to advertise its territory might be the rare occasions that this bird gets noticed.

Green herons can be found through most of our state. Here in the Sandhills and Piedmont they spend the spring and summer months in all types of wet habitat. Not surprisingly, they feed on fish, amphibians and large invertebrates. They have even been known to grab hummingbirds from time to time! Very versatile hunters, green herons can dive and swim after prey if motivated. Moving through deep water is likely made possible by their natural buoyancy and partial webbing between their toes. Most remarkably, this is one of a very few bird species that actually uses tools. Individuals have been known to use worms, twigs, feathers, bread crusts and other enticements to lure small fish within easy reach.

Green herons are adaptable when it comes to breeding as well. A pair bond is formed between males and females from spring through late summer. The male will choose a spot and begin nest building early on. The female will take over and construct a platform of sticks that may be solid or quite flimsy. But the nest will always be protected, whether it is in a tree or large shrub. The clutch of three to five eggs is assiduously tended by both parents. Likewise, the young will be fed and brooded not only by the female but by the male as well. And for several weeks the heron family will stick together while the juveniles learn what it takes to survive.

You can expect to see green herons from late March into September. Most members of the population in the Eastern United States then head to the Caribbean and Central America in the fall. Even before this southward movement, individuals may wander in almost any direction, especially if food levels drop or water sources dry up. Individuals have covered very long distances. Surprisingly, a few have been observed as far away as Great Britain and France.

So over the next few months, if you scan the edges of wet habitat, you may be lucky enough to spot a green heron, hunched over with a long, sharp bill, staring intently into the water. Better yet, listen for a loud, catlike “skeow” or odd screaming that may give these somewhat secretive birds away. Should a bird fly, it may seem somewhat crow-like with slow wing beats, but its partially unfolded neck will certainly give it away.  PS

Susan would love to hear from you. Feel free to send wildlife observations to susan@ncaves.com

The Bad Boys of Bird-dom

Vultures are proliferating — and living up to their bad rap as destructive scavengers

By Susan Campbell

Nuisance birds? Is there truly such a thing?? Yes. In fact, there are a number of them: pigeons (or more correctly rock pigeons), Canada geese and house sparrows are just a few of the species that can damage property all across the United States and every day. But there are also birds that may pose a health risk. Vultures, as it turns out, are one such group.

Often referred to generically as “buzzards,” vultures are part of a family of birds found worldwide with dozens of species including South American condors. Here in North Carolina, we have both turkey and black vultures year round. Individuals from farther north significantly boost flock numbers in the cooler months. These large, black scavengers lack feathers on their heads: likely an adaptation to feeding almost exclusively on carcasses. Turkey vultures are the more common species from the mountains to the coast. Soaring in a dihedral (v-shaped profile) on long wings with silver linings, they have extended tails for steering and distinctive red heads. Black vultures, however, have gray heads and white patches on the underwing as well as somewhat shorter wings and tails. As a result they soar with a flatter profile and fly with snappier wing beats. This species has really expanded across the Piedmont in recent years perhaps due to development, along with increased road building and the inevitable roadkill that results.

However, as often as one might see a vulture or two overhead, neither species is a common breeder in our part of the state. 

Some places, like the town of Robbins, here in Moore County, have had an overabundance of vultures now for over a decade. During a recent conversation with David Lambert, the town manager, it became clear that this small town in the western part of the county indeed has a serious issue. The vulture problem only just made it into the news recently. I was alarmed to learn that hundreds of birds roost around the center of town most of the year. The peak density of 600–800 birds occurs in midwinter. However, even in summer there are at least a few dozen loafing in the area. Deterrents such as noisemakers have been to no avail. An official from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services even paid a visit a couple of years ago and used selective lethal measures (i.e. shooting a few birds). This actually worked — for a little while.

Vultures can definitely pose a health hazard. In the late afternoon, they will pour into a spot featuring large trees or where there is a tower of some kind and they will perch close together for the night. You can imagine how smelly and nasty their droppings can be under such structures in a short period of time! It is particularly an issue on water towers, which seem to attract both black and turkey vultures.  Guano has made its way into drinking water here in the Sandhills (in Vass) and certainly cannot be tolerated.

Vultures can also be very destructive if they are bored. This is especially true of juvenile birds in late summer. Some of them have been known to tear into fabric, rip into rubber and plastic, and even break through doors and windows that are not firmly secured.

No one really knows why the congregation exists in the Robbins area. Some speculate it may have to do with proximity to the Deep River or perhaps it is the abundance of chicken farms in close proximity — or it could be something else entirely. What’s clear, though, is that this is one of the largest congregations of vultures in the state.

The U.S.D.A. is likely to pay this town another visit in the near future to shoot more birds. This time, they’ll probably hang a few (yes, this works) at the largest sites to dissuade roosting flocks from congregating there. But since many of the vultures will have dispersed for the breeding season, things should have improved (one way or another). As far as how many return again next fall, only time will tell.  PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at susan@ncaves.com.

Fine Feathers

The unmistakable yellow-rumped warbler arrives with spring

By Susan Campbell

The days are getting longer, the temperatures are rising and the birds are definitely paying attention! More specifically, their hormones are reacting to increased daylight and the males are beginning to advertise their wares in preparation for the breeding season. Even some of our lingering winter visitors are becoming more noticeable as they sport brighter colors and begin to sing. The yellow-rumped warbler happens to be a shining example.

Yellow-rumpeds are a bird of the pine forests in summertime, but in winter they can be found all along the East Coast and throughout the Southern U.S. From mid-November until late April, they are quite common everywhere in North Carolina. As spring approaches, the birds acquire distinctive bright black and white plumage with splashes of yellow. The rump is indeed brightly colored as are the “shoulders” and the crown. These little birds, that previously may have gone undetected in your neighborhood, will turn into flashy little songsters with a beautiful warble that is now hard to ignore.

Yellow-rumped warblers, who are mainly insectivorous during the summer months, find plenty of small insects here in the central part of the state even in the colder months. Yellow-rumpeds will grab flies and midges in mid-air, beetles and spiders in thick vegetation. But they are also known for their adaptability when it comes to feeding. In addition to a variety of invertebrates that may be active in wet habitat, berries are a staple of the birds’ diet. In fact, their digestive system is such that they can consume wax myrtle and bayberry fruits. This is why you may hear these little birds referred to as “myrtle” warblers. Such adaptable foraging behavior allows these birds to winter considerably farther north than other warbler species in the United States. Furthermore, they will also visit feeding stations where suet or dried fruit or jelly are offered. And if they happen upon a hummingbird or oriole feeder, they’ll even drink sugar water.

If you visit the coast in the winter, you will likely come across huge flocks of these little birds. Their incessant “check” calls and flitting from branch to branch will give them away. As seasoned birdwatchers know, other unexpected species like blue-headed and white-eyed vireos and warblers such as black-and-white or palm may be occasionally mixed in these congregations. Careful sorting of these energetic small songbirds can be rewarding! Although it may take scrutinizing dozens and dozens of yellow-rumpeds before something different comes into view, it can be worth the effort. Regardless, enjoy these colorful little critters — soon they’ll take wing and head to the North.  PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at susan@ncaves.com.


The call of the red-winged blackbird heralds spring

By Susan Campbell

The sound of spring, for some, is the song of the American robin, our melodious and most familiar songster. But for me it has always been the call of the red-winged blackbird. When I first started watching birds in New York State, migration began a lot later than here in North Carolina. And some of the first returnees riding the warmer winds back north are red-wingeds. The distant “chucking” coming from the ribbons of birds passing overhead was the very first sign that winter was losing its grip. Not long after, I would be greeted by the first males giving their loud “konk-a-ree!” songs from the tallest of the cattails in the nearby marsh.

Red-wingeds get their name, of course, from the bright red epaulets on the wings of the adult males. These patches are actually set off on the black wing by a patch of yellow feathers just below. Otherwise, the birds are completely dark. Females, not surprisingly, are quite drab.  Their brownish, streaky appearance is superb camouflage against the tall grasses in the wet habitat that they tend to inhabit.  Young birds are also entirely streaked, which makes them harder to spot as they learn their way around the world, well into their first winter.

These blackbirds can be found inland in our state year round. However, in the winter months, they gather in large flocks so they are not widespread.  Aggregations of thousands of birds can be found closer to the coast from late fall into early spring.  But by March, they are returning to localized bottomlands, lakes and ponds to breed. Red-wingeds are unusual in that they are polygymous. Males may have a harem of mates within the territory that they defend.  Experienced males will pair with two or more females as early as mid-March. Females will create substantial nests in low vegetation by weaving wet leaves and shoots together to form a dense cup. They will add mud to the inside and then finally line it with fine grasses before laying two to four pale eggs with dark streaks. 

Although blackbirds are generally known to feed on seeds, of both native and agricultural origins, in the summer they hunt mainly insects. They are known to probe at the base of aquatic plants with their slender bills and are very capable of prying insects from the stems. Young red-wingeds, like so many species, require lots of protein. It is the mother birds that forage for the family. Males spend most of their time defending their territories from high perches, singing throughout the day and fiercely chasing interlopers that venture too close.

As abundant as these birds may seem to be, their numbers have been declining for several decades. It is likely due to the continuing loss of wetland habitat throughout their range. Additionally, terrestrial predators are on the rise in areas where they breed — including cats. If you have red-wingeds in your neighborhood this spring, consider yourself lucky and be sure to get out and enjoy their antics as well as that unmistakable song!

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at susan@ncaves.com.


Look for the charismatic, aquatic Pied-billed Grebe in winter

By Susan Campbell

Here in North Carolina, winter is the season for spotting waterfowl. Inland, in addition to Canada geese, birdwatchers have a shot at seeing more than a dozen species of ducks on local lakes and ponds. If you are looking closely, you may notice a very small swimmer, one that is often solitary in its habits. This would be the charismatic pied-billed grebe. It is the pied-billed that has the largest range of five grebes found across North America.

The pied-billed grebe is a compact waterbird in a family of birds that are expert swimmers and divers. In fact, you will never see a grebe on land. Their legs are placed so far back on their bodies that walking is very difficult. Not surprisingly the word “grebe” means literally “feet at the buttocks.” But these birds can readily dive to great depths to forage for aquatic invertebrates such as crayfish as well as chase down small fish.

However, they are not the strongest fliers, having relatively small, rounded wings. I find it amazing that our wintering individuals come from as far away as the upper Midwest or even central Canada.

The pied-billed grebe is smaller than a football with shades of gray and a white underside.

Pied is defined “as having two or more different colors.” As its name implies, this bird has a silvery gray bill with a black band. It is very stout. The jaws of these birds are also very strong, and more than compensate for what they lack in bill length. Cracking the exoskeletons of insects, shrimps and clams is no problem for this beautiful swimmer, as is hanging onto slippery minnows. Another interesting detail of this bird’s anatomy is that it has an extremely short tail with bright white, undertail coverts that make it possible to identify this bird at a distance.

These little birds have some interesting behavioral adaptations that are well worth watching for. For one, they have the capability to sink below the surface if the situation warrants. Somehow, they are able to control the buoyancy of their plumage and so can readily absorb water to increase their weight and quickly disappear from sight. Likewise they can swim with their heads just below the surface so as to not be seen. And they can even employ a “crash dive” to evade predators, pushing themselves downward with their wings and kicking hard with their feet.

One other well-known trait of pied-billeds is that they eat large quantities of their own feathers. It is thought that they create a large but porous plug in the gut that traps dangerous fragments of certain food items from entering the intestine. They even feed feathers to their young.

You can look for pied-billed grebes on any body of still or slow-moving water. Larger creeks, marshy ponds or even larger lakes in our area may host these little birds from October through March. However, individuals may give themselves away by the long, loud series of variable chatters, bleats or coos that they make in late winter or when advertising their territory to the occasional interloper. Either way, these birds sure deserve a good look any time, even though they are not that large — or very colorful.  PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife observations and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Northern Bobwhite

Diminished in number, the bird with the distinctive call is making a comeback

By Susan Campbell

For those fortunate enough to live in open piney woods or adjacent to large farm fields, the whistled call of the bobwhite quail may be a familiar sound. But, as with so many of our bird species, this once prolific songster has diminished in the Piedmont. And anyone in search of winter partridge for the table is increasingly likely to be disappointed.

Bobwhite quail measure between 8 to 11 inches beak-to-tail and have very cryptic brown, black and white markings that make them all but impossible to see in the grassy habitats they call home. The male has a bright, white eye-stripe and throat marking, and is the one who announces his territory through a repeated “bob-white” call. The female is not only smaller but drabber, with an eye-stripe and throat that are a buffy color. This stout bird’s short sharp bill, strong legs and feet with sharp claws, make it well adapted to foraging at ground level for insects, berries and soft vegetation.

Northern bobwhite males attract a mate using their loud repetitive calls in the spring. The female will reply with a four-syllable whistle of her own. Following breeding, the pair creates a domed nest concealed in tall grasses, and the hen lays up to 20 pure white eggs. It takes about 25 days of incubation for the young to hatch. Hens will renest if the eggs are eaten or destroyed. Upon hatching, the chicks will immediately follow their parents, learning how to hunt bugs and which shoots are the most nutritious.  As a group they are referred to as a covey.  They will stay together through the winter and may join other families to form coveys of thirty or more birds. When alarmed at an early age, the young will scatter and freeze to avoid predators. Once they can fly, they will take to the air in a loud blur of wings if they are startled by a potential predator.

Quail were a very popular game bird throughout North Carolina until not that long ago. Since the 1980s, when their numbers began to decline, they’ve been much harder to find. A combination of factors is believed to be responsible. Not only have open woodlands and agricultural fields with hedgerows become more scarce but ground predators such as foxes, coyotes, raccoons and free roaming cats have increased. Also, the timing of rainfall can significantly affect breeding productivity. Too much rain too early may inundate nests and dry conditions when chicks hatch may result in insufficient food.

These days, hunters search for coveys in the forests and fields that comprise the patchwork of Game Lands in our portion of the state or they go to private game reserves. Their pursuit requires a well-trained bird dog and a good deal of patience. However, active quail management is occurring locally. Two strategies are at work: opening up forested habitat using prescribed burning and replanting undesirable vegetation with quality cover.  Recent efforts by biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and at Fort Bragg (along with assistance from local Quail Unlimited chapters) are resulting in gradual increases in northern bobwhite. We certainly hope this trend continues so that in the not too distant future, sightings of winter coveys will be once again commonplace throughout central North Carolina and the song of the bobwhite will return to the South.  PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife observations and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

The Bald Eagle Flies Again

Though still endangered in these parts, our national symbol is on the rise

By Susan Campbell

Anyone who has had the good fortune to spot a bald eagle, whether soaring overhead or perched along a waterway, cannot help but be awed by its noble appearance. And to think: This large raptor, the only eagle found solely in North America, narrowly missed becoming our national symbol. Benjamin Franklin lobbied hard for the wild turkey, the only endemic bird species to the United States, but Congress decided on the bald eagle in 1782, as a result of the bird’s perceived fierce demeanor. In actuality, bald eagles are mainly carrion eaters, although they will attack wounded mammals, birds and aquatic animals, as well. They are very opportunistic and will also snatch prey from crows when given the chance.

During the first half of the 20th century, eagles were erroneously and relentlessly persecuted by raptor hunters, often by ranchers who were attempting to protect their investments. They were also affected by metal toxicity as a result of feeding on game containing lead shot. Additionally, during the period of broad scale DDT application, as most people know, the toxin tended to accumulate in carnivores at the top of the food chain. And, as was the case in several bird species, it caused eggshell thinning to the extent that eagle eggs broke long before they could hatch.

Bald eagles were declared an endangered species in 1967. Following the ban on DDT and the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, their numbers began to rebound. On June 28, 2007 the species was declared recovered. Here in North Carolina they are being closely monitored by state biologists. Although the number of nests and young has been increasing, they are still considered threatened here.

In the Sandhills, there are year-round sightings of individuals, most commonly on our larger lakes such as Lake Surf (Woodlake) or Lake Pinehurst. Farther north they can be frequently spotted around Falls or Jordan Lake in the Triangle. In February of 2012, O.Henry documented the avid eagle-watching activities at Lake Higgins, Brandt and Townsend (issuu.com/ohenrymag/docs/ohenry_february_2012/53) in Greensboro.

In mid-winter birdwatchers and endangered species biologists are on the lookout for eagle nests. Bald eagle pairs return to their breeding territories and lay eggs ahead of most other raptors (the exception being great horned owls that begin breeding activities a bit earlier). Their sizable platforms of dead branches and large sticks may or may not be easy to spot. Eagle nests, if they are reused from year to year, will be gradually enlarged but not massive affairs. But newer nests can be well concealed in the top of a live evergreen or large snag.

Eagle young, who typically fledge in April, take three to four years to mature. They will not successfully attract a mate until they have a fully white head and tail. Should you see an adult early in the New Year, keep an eye out for a second bird. A pair of adults may mean there is a nest somewhere nearby. If you suspect that you have found a nest, definitely give me a holler!  PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife observations and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.


Haunting Call of Summer’s End

The plaintive song of the mourning dove

By Susan Campbell

Doves are very much taken for granted, though they are almost everywhere we look. Their cryptic coloration and still habits make them easy to overlook, but they are nothing short of beautiful. Mourning doves are the most familiar members of the group statewide. Of course, we have plenty of rock doves (aka pigeons) and a rapidly increasing number of Eurasian collared doves as well.  However, it is the mourning dove that is my favorite — and garners the most attention.

The species has a sleek, medium-sized, light brown body with distinctive wings that are splotched with black. But it’s the bird’s small head and eye ring, accented with a pale bluish crown, that make the mourning dove one of America’s prettiest species. At close range, a rosy sheen can be seen on the breast feathers of the males. The mourning dove’s name originates from its plaintive song. Its mournful hooting is almost haunting and has been known to fool people into thinking they are hearing an owl.

By late summer as crops ripen doves are flocking in large numbers in and around big fields.  They feed busily on the ground, swallowing a variety of seeds as they fatten up prior to migration. All doves will consume large amounts of whole seeds in their crop. This means they need to perch in a safe spot to digest their gorging. Where and how far they fly depends on weather and food availability.  Most do not move long distances but rather seek out areas that will hold a diversity of grains for weeks at a time.  Flocks of hundreds of birds can be found perched on wires or in snags adjacent to good foraging habitat.

Young birds blend in well with the adults very soon after fledging. Their tails may not be quite as long, nor will their heads be as distinctly patterned, but these are field marks that are only visible at very close range. Three to five clutches of two are not unusual in a season. With a moderate climate here in North Carolina, especially along our coast, mourning doves have been found breeding in every month of the year.

There is no better time for individual mourning doves to seek safety in numbers than early September. Labor Day weekend marks the beginning of hunting season and doves are the first game on the calendar. Their robust population seems to handle the harvest throughout the state and nationwide.  This is at least due in part to their fast and erratic flight behavior, which makes the birds challenging targets.

Dove hunting has a rich cultural history here in the South. It is a time to bond with family and friends, enjoy the waning days of summer afield and perhaps even bring home enough plump breasts for a hearty meal.  Scouting out the right spot is the key. Hunters will survey known locations looking for the best variety of seed-bearing cover crops, strategic perching sites and hopefully at least a few doves hanging around.  For those who do not have access to suitable private land for hunting doves, the State Game Lands (Sandhills, Caswell, Jordan and others) offer opportunities. Both private and public lands manage habitat specifically for mourning doves year round.

And if you don’t hunt, take some time and seek out these attractive birds: no ammo or binoculars are required!

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos. She can be contacted by email at susan@ncaves.com.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!

Nope, that reddish, winged creature in the garden is a hummingbird moth

By Susan Campbell

I am waiting — just waiting for the first call to come in from someone who has seen a “baby hummingbird.” Although this is the time when young ruby-throateds are appearing at feeders and flowers across the state, the first report of the year is usually from a very puzzled observer. Not only has he or she spotted a very small hummer, but it looks to be of another species: The color pattern is very different. So, what is it?

The answer is always the same: It is not a hummingbird at all, but a moth. Indeed, these insects hover to feed from brightly colored flowers and appear to have a long bill but they are insects. The obvious give-away is the long antennae. But on such a small, fast flier the antennae — and three pairs of legs — are easily overlooked. The odd behavior and body coloration are what grab one’s attention. The confusion is so common that many bird identification guides depict these moths on the same page alongside the details for ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Here in the North Carolina Piedmont and Sandhills, we have at least three kinds of so-called hummingbird moths all of which are in the Sphingidae family. Two are “clearwing” moths: the hummingbird clearwing and the hummingbird hawk moth. We also have white-lined sphinx moths in late summer. They are all exclusively nectivorous feeding, and they like the very same blooms that hummingbirds frequent. With their long proboscises, they can reach down into the tubular flowers of impatiens, fuchsias, and assorted salvias, just to name a few.

The clearwings are named for the transparent midsection of their wings. The rest of the body is frequently reddish but may be a shade of blue. They are active during the day, flitting from plant to plant in search of a sweet meal. Typically clearwings are not intimidated by human activity; probably because four-legged mammals do not prey on moths in our area. That means one can usually approach these beautiful creatures very closely. If you have the patience as well as a fast shutter speed, you may be able to get some excellent shots of these photogenic insects.

Sphinx moths are large, striking and interesting moths. And unlike the clearwings, they are creatures of the night. They can be abundant at the very same flowers hummingbirds use during the day. But most people are totally unaware of their existence given their nocturnal habits. It is the caterpillar of this group that is more familiar. Typically called a hornworm (given the yellowy head projections), they are voracious pests on a variety of plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and tobacco. However, not only are the adult sphinx moths eaten by bats and small owls but as caterpillars, hornworms are sought out by tiny Braconid wasps. The eggs of the wasp develop under the skin of the caterpillar. Once they pupate, they attach themselves externally and are mistakenly thought to be the eggs of yet more caterpillars. When gardeners find caterpillars in this state, they are no longer a threat to the plants, with very little time to live.

So keep your eyes peeled around the yard this summer.  You may be lucky enough to spot one of these “baby hummers” hovering among the blooms!  PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at susan@ncaves.com.

Calls of the Wild

The season of the full-throated eastern phoebe is here

By Susan Campbell

Eastern phoebes are small black-and-white birds that can be easily overlooked — if it weren’t for their loud voices. Repeated “feee-bee, fee-bee” can be heard around wet areas all over our state during the warmer months. The farther west one travels through the Piedmont and into the Foothills, calling males become more and more common. From March through June, they loudly and incessantly declare their territory from elevated perches adjacent to ponds and streams.

Phoebes have an extensive range in the Eastern United States: from the coast to the Rockies and up and across central Canada. In the winter they can be found in southern states from the Carolinas over to Texas down into Mexico and even in northern Central America. They are exclusively insectivorous, feeding on beetles, dragonflies, moths — any bugs that will fit down the hatch. Although they don’t typically take advantage of feeders, I have seen one that did manage to negotiate a suet cage one winter. The birds’ feet are weak, and they are not capable of clinging. So this bird actually had perfected a hovering technique as it fed in spurts.

Originally, Eastern phoebes would use ledges on cliff faces for nesting. We do not know much about their habits in such locations since few are found breeding in such places now. Things have changed a lot for these birds as humans have altered their landscape and offered them an abundance of urban locales in which to nest.

In our area, phoebes can be easy to spot as a result of their loud calls, but their nests may not be. Good-sized open cup structures, the habitats will be tucked in out-of-the-way locations. Typically they will be on a ledge high up on a girder under a bridge or associated with a large culvert. The corner of a porch or another protected flat spot often suits them. Grasses and thin branches are woven and glued together with mud, so the nests are necessarily located near wet areas.

The affinity eastern phoebes have for nesting on man-made structures in our area may indicate that these are safer than more traditional locations. Climbing snakes are not uncommon in the Piedmont and Sandhills. Black rat snakes and corn snakes are not as active in buildings as they are on bridges and other water-control structures. It might be that the birds are adapting their behavior in response to these predators and others that are less likely to dwell so close to human activity.

In recent years it has been fascinating to discover the variety of locations that these little birds choose as support structure for nesting.  Light fixtures and light boxes (such as the one on our hay barn that is this year’s choice for the local pair), gazebos, porch support posts and other domestic structures suit their needs as long as they are covered by at least a slight overhang. Water, of course, is a necessity for phoebes in summer, and they require mature trees for perching and foraging, as well. So keep an ear out and perhaps you will find one of these adaptable birds nearby — ’tis the season! PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at susan@ncaves.com.