Eastern Phoebe (aka Tail-Wagging Hovercrafts)

If you know what to look for, it’s hard to mistake an eastern phoebe for anything else. First, phoebes say their name in their call! Second, the bird isn’t shy, often sitting on fence posts or tall prairie plant stems at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, wagging its tail up and down.

Beyond that, the eastern phoebe is one of several amazing birds that hover in flight when foraging. At Nature Boardwalk, it hovers, dives down just to the surface of the water, grabs an unseen insect off the surface and flies back to its perch.

Phoebes are “flycatchers,” a type of bird that eats mostly insects. I saw the season’s first phoebe on March 23, and their numbers seem to be gradually increasing. This morning I saw four out and about.

Like barn swallows, eastern phoebes often use human structures to build their nests. So, we may see these nests popping up under the Lester E. Fisher Bridge, where special structures have been added to facilitate nest building. Stay tuned.

Vicky Hunt

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