Phoebe Behavior Observations in Full Swing

Project Phoebe is about three months into its first field season. Adorable baby Phoebes have fledged (left the nest) at a handful of our nests, and some parents have already laid a second round of eggs! Other Phoebe pairs are just laying their first round of eggs.

To better understand how city life affects Phoebe behavior and reproduction, the Project Phoebe team carries out several observations of the parents’ behavior at each of our nests. We record videos of parents visiting their nest, allowing us to assess how factors like temperature and exposure to pollutants affect the quantity and quality of care parents provide to their young.

Video footage of a Black Phoebe nest recorded in Davis. There are five, twelve-day-old nestlings in this nest! First, the male parent (no ID bands) visits briefly to deliver food. Then, the female (two orange ID bands) visits to deliver food and remove a nestling fecal sac. These fecal sacs consist of poop encased in mucus, and they provide a convenient way for parents to remove waste from the nest. You can learn more here!

At some of our nests, we secure tiny radio transmitter tags on one of the Phoebe parents–these fit like miniature bird backpacks and transmit radio signals at a certain frequency! We then use a receiver and antenna to locate the bird and follow them while they forage. The receiver is tuned to the frequency of the transmitter tag on the bird, and when the receiver is pointed at the tag, signals from the tag are transformed into a beeping sound. You can learn more about this technique, called radio telemetry, here. Foraging observations aided by radio telemetry help scientists understand things such as how far animals travel from their nests and what types of habitat they use.

Jacob walks down a grassy path wearing a yellow Project Phoebe vest and holding a metal device in his hand. The device has a receiver box mounted at the base of an antenna. A concrete bridge can be seen to the left of Jacob, and there is a river in the direction he is walking.
Jacob uses radio telemetry to track a Phoebe at Putah Creek Riparian Reserve. He is holding the receiver and antenna in his hand. When he points these in the direction of the tagged Phoebe, he hears a beeping sound. The beeping sound gets louder as he gets closer to the bird. This technique helps him determine the direction of the bird and how far away they are.

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