Ask-a-Birder: “Friendly” Phoebes

It seems something has gotten into the Phoebes this November. While phoebes are known to be quite tame around humans, Travis Audubon has received multiple reports of especially bold birds. At Commons Ford, a phoebe sat on several participants of both the recent Travis Audubon Master Birder and Intro to Birds class field trips. A solo birder at Commons Ford even reported a phoebe that took the contact right out of his eye!

At the boat dock a “friendly” Eastern phoebe alighted on a railing about 3 feet from me, then as I was observing it flew up into my face, wings flapping away. It then perched on my right shoulder. My right eye felt as if the bird’s wings had dislodged the contact. After a moment it flew up into my face again, then perched on my left shoulder. It was then that I got to thinking it was after my contacts, but was too enchanted by this behavior to shoo it off. Suddenly it flew into my face a third time, then retreated to the railing. I was able to see a contact lens sticking out of the end of its bill, which it then swallowed.

In northeast Austin, a phoebe has been visiting a family during their outdoor play time:

For weeks, [a phoebe] lands right next to my family, swooping down on us and sitting right next to us. It appears every day when my daughter and I go outside. It has hit my phone, grazed my ear and hair, and doesn’t want to leave us alone.

Wildlife Biologist Chuck Sexton shed some light on the subject:

The behavior is not strange at all, just a bit more aggressive than we usually expect out of an Eastern Phoebe. This is a bird establishing and defending a *winter* feeding territory. Although E. Phoebe’s are resident in the area, we also get an influx of birds from elsewhere in the winter time. Perhaps more than jays, yellow-rumps, and other species, they tend to establish territories in the winter.

Chuck went on to explain that the birds should settle down soon and not be as aggressive.

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