June Fieldwork Update!

Hi, everyone, Project Phoebe here with our June Fieldwork Update! 

It has been a wildly busy field season so far. We started our work this spring hoping to monitor 20 or so nests. Instead, we found nearly 40 nests! WOW! We owe you all a huge thanks for your support and an especially huge thank you to the birders and homeowners who have called in to let us know about new nest locations. Many of you have even let us show up in the wee hours of the early morning at your homes to check in on our favorite flycatchers. Thank you all so much– we couldn’t do this without you.

Another Mama Phoebe banded and ready to fly!

Our intrepid black phoebe study subjects are continuing to build nests well into June. As we’ve gained experience this field season, we’ve started to find nests in the most unexpected of places. We’ve spotted nests on fallen logs, under busy overpasses, even in the middle of a drainage pipe! It seems like there is no end to these birds’ ingenuity and resourcefulness when it comes to finding a nesting spot.

At this point in the season, we’ve been able to follow many of our birds all the way through their breeding cycle, from the day black phoebes first lay their eggs, to when their babies take their first flights out of the nest. Take a look at some of the youngsters we’ve seen grow up. They’re so cute! Most of these fledglings have their own sets of leg bands equipped. That way if we catch any of them next year, we’ll know where they grew up and who their family members are! Soon, we’ll have entire phoebe family trees to look over.

Below- an adorable Phoebe nestling, soon to fully fledge!

Unfortunately, not every nest we’ve found has been so lucky. Many of our birds had to work overtime this season keeping their nests safe from predators, and even then, predators like California Scrub Jays frequently get to nests before the babies have time to fully develop. It’s a tough world out there! The sheer amount of nest predation we’ve seen in cities has got us thinking about some of our initial questions when we started this project: are cities really a good place for black phoebes to live? Or are they just enticed by all the human structures they can use for nests? And of course, how can we create a more supportive environment in our cities and backyards for the phoebes that nest there? We’re getting closer to answering these questions!

And we’re not done yet this season– not by a long shot. Many of the phoebes we’re following have started on their second broods of the season. Some of them might end up raising ten kids from birth to fledging by the start of August! All the while, we’re collecting huge amounts of data on practically every aspect of these birds’ lives, whether it’s their parenting habits, foraging range, heat stress, body condition, even the shape of their bills. The process of collecting these data can be long and difficult, but by the end of just this first field season, we’ve gotten a more in-depth look at the lives of these birds than anyone ever has before. We think phoebes are just amazing, so that’s something we’re happy to celebrate! 

And there’s even more good news on the horizon– We’re very excited to announce that we’ve just received a grant from the UC Davis Academic Senate to study the soil composition of black phoebe nests! Soon, we will post a more in-depth update about this initiative, which is an interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at UCD.

We’ve still got a long way to go this field season, but we’ve already learned so much about our wonderful pheebs. We can’t wait to see what comes next. From all of us here at Project Phoebe, have a good summer! We’ll be out and about watching the phoebes have a good one, too.

See you in the field!

– Project Phoebe

All activities were depicted and described were conducted by trained individuals and approved under federal, state, and university permits–please do not attempt to handle wild birds or their nests yourself.

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