Flycatcher Lessons

Pacific-slope flycatcher eggs

Pacific-slope flycatcher eggs

Here in northern California right now many birds are being born.  Thinking back on all the years I have watched more and more baby birds coming into this world, I realized I have learned some important life lessons from them.  Take this pacific-slope flycatcher.  For 8 years in a row the female has built her mossy nest on our front door beam.  Almost every year chicks have hatched and fledged; but it’s different every year, and some years are harder than others (Life Lesson #1). 

Here’s what else I’ve learned: 

Pacific-slope flycatcher mother

Pacific-slope flycatcher mother


#2.  Home is where the heart is.  This little bird is only about 5 inches long but she manages to fly 1,900 miles from Mexico to our front porch year after year.  I’m sure this couple is just as happy when they reach our porch beam, as we are, the human couple, when we hear that first seet of the spring.  But then one day in late summer they will be gone, off to their winter home.

#3.  We get by with a little help from our friends.  In 2005 the nest was an absolute mess, it was too small for the brood and poorly constructed.  When temperatures hit one hundred one day, while we were at work a chick either fell or got pushed out of the nest.  When I came home I found a drooping, half-dead, panting chick on the door step.  I brought the chick a bottle cap of water.

#4.  Diet is everything.  I watched that little guy revive from a few sips of water and was so encouraged that I decided to find him some food.  Hmmm, I thought, a flycatcher must eat flies.  Armed with a flyswatter, I found a big fly, swatted it dead, and hand delivered it to the panting chick.  Don’t you know, within an hour the fly was consumed, and the flycatcher’s little head had lifted.  We slipped him back into the nest and life was restored.

Pacific-slope flycatcher nestlings

Pacific-slope flycatcher nestlings

#5.  Tenacity is critical.  One year I heard a thump outside the front door and found the nest on the deck, four little chicks were frantically scattering.  They looked like those wind-up chicks in novelty stores at Easter time.  It would have been comical if there weren’t four lives at stake.  One chick dropped between the deck slats, fell down below where snakes reside.  With a long arm, quick action and the concerted effort of my partner and me, we managed to gather the chicks.  But with the drop, the nest had become bottomless.  Fortunately, the year before we had installed a bird platform beside the beam, so we returned this rumpled mass to the platform.  All the birds survived.

All of us living, breathing beings keep going.  Another lesson:  life goes on.  What have you learned from the creatures around you?

Pacific-slope flycatcher adult singing of life

Pacific-slope flycatcher adult singing of life


6 thoughts on “Flycatcher Lessons

  1. Reminds me of the antisipation of the returning of the Ruby-throated hummingbirds in May. We were late hanging our feeder out this year, but I do not think that mattered as the weather has been very rainy. I guess I would not want to travel from the Gulf of Mexico to Illinois with crappy weather.
    I have just seen the female and her chicks, which is green in color and have not experienced the male (shy guy).
    I have not seen a flycatcher, but I wish we had them here as springtime the flies are rediculous.
    Great blog!

    • Great to hear from you Dan! It’s a really fun time of year, isn’t it?, with all the returning migrants, nesting, and new chicks. You might see the Eastern Phoebe, that’s a flycatcher. Flycatchers are quite shy, but if you keep a look-out, you will probably spot one. Thanks for visiting!

    • Yes, they will keep coming back, fortunately. The lifespan of a songbird averages around 5 yrs usually, so I’m pretty certain that we are now hosting the next generation. The mother we now have here could even be one of the chicks we saved. Thanks for visiting!

  2. I just witnessed three flycatcher chicks leaving the nest this morning. One fell with a thud and when I went outside my dog was playing with it. I quickly grabbed the chick and tried to put him back in the nest. He fell out again and broke his neck. What a horrible thing to witness. I put the lifeless chick back in the nest and the mother came back an hour later all distressed. Should I have placed the dead chick back in the nest? I am sick about this ordeal and have no idea if I did the right thing? Should I remove the chick from the nest?
    British Columbia

    • Oh Janelle, I’m so sorry. Yes, you did the right thing. But apparently this little guy wasn’t quite as strong as his siblings and sometimes that’s how nature works. Yes, I think you should remove the chick from the nest. There’s nothing more you could have done, and at least the other chicks were able to fledge and start a new life. Try not to take it too personally, these things happen. Thanks for writing….

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