For many years, we’ve had a phoebe nest atop our front porch light fixture. Phoebes are small gray birds with the habit of flicking their tails up and down while perching on a branch or wire. Their call is a harsh, indignant “fee-BEE!”
I don’t know why Mama phoebe chose such a public place to raise her young. Every time the door opened, she had to flee to the oak tree across the driveway. No wonder she sounded vexed.
In past years, she used the old nest, but this year it has remained unoccupied. She is trying to build a new one above the front door, on a half-inch-wide piece of molding. It’s too narrow. Despite her best efforts, every morning little bits of moss appear on the porch right under the door.
There are two mysteries here. One is why the phoebe doesn’t just reoccupy the old nest. My wife thinks that it’s because the last brood Mama raised there all died. Perhaps there’s some subtle residue of disaster in it, too faint for human senses, that keeps the phoebes away.
The other mystery is why she persists in trying to do the impossible. She has numerous other places to build a nest. Maybe for phoebes, like people, the tug of home is too strong to resist, even when we should.