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This Week’s Creature Feature: Look Who’s Wintering in Chesapeake Country

Flycatchers, maybe hummingbirds
     In winter, birds that are displaced by severe cold in the far north don’t find the Chesapeake Bay area so bad a place. Unusually, one of the common visitors is a flycatcher, the phoebe.
      Flycatchers are a class of bird that are acrobatic fliers with long fine feathers around their beaks that help them capture insects from the air. In Maryland, they vary from the least flycatcher to the much larger eastern kingbird. Occasionally, the elegant and beautiful scissor-tailed flycatcher will show up in the summer.
     Phoebes are medium-sized flycatchers with slightly yellow breasts, dark upper and lower bills, dark backs and a habit of not being able to sit still: They like to wag their tails up and down. They also have a very distinctive soft song.
     They frequently live close to people and are very approachable. If you get too close, they tend to politely fly ahead to another perch. They do nest in Maryland and seem to gravitate to rocky ledges or structures like bridges. I have frequently found nests behind the overhang of waterfalls.
      The nests, made by the female, are a base of mud with fillers like dry grass. Usually jammed into a small nest are three or four young that need to be able to fly before making the long drop off the nest’s edge. When they leave the nest, the young can be seen sitting lined up on a branch waiting their turn to be fed. By the end of the summer, they are ready to move out on their own.
     In winter, flying insects are not too common except for occasional moths and flies on warm days. So the phoebes supplement their diets with fruit and berries.
     P.S. Don’t give up on hummingbirds. Birding expert and musician Dan Haas asked that I leave my hummingbird feeders up through the cold weather in case there are rare stragglers blown into our area. Last year, a locally rare calliope hummingbird visited Annapolis in the winter.