The Phoebe’s Return
But that seems to me nothing more than wishful thinking, since what bird, knowing that a driving Nor’easter was in the offing, would come to Maine now, rather than waiting for the storm to subside?
Besides that, phoebes are flycatchers, meaning that they subside upon flying insects, mostly caught on the wing. But insects do not fly about during Nor’easters.
Personally, I don’t think phoebes have the sense that God gave a pump handle. They relentlessly continue to build their mud nests above the trim on my back door, despite me removing it on a regular basis. Phoebes don’t learn from past errors.
While I enjoy watching phoebes catch mosquitoes, blackflies and other nuisance insects, I resent the mess they make. Bird splatter on my car windshield and on garden tools and machines stored in my shed do not make predispose me toward these messy birds.
And yet, phoebes have a disarming way about them. How can anyone not smile when watching a phoebe on a fencepost, twitching its tail up and down in a rhythmical motion? The arrival of the phoebe marks the official beginning of spring, at least for me.
Here’s something about another familiar animal that we humans credit with having a kind of innate intelligence that doesn’t really exist. Beavers, those ubiquitous dam builders, have an inbred knowledge of how to build stick dams. That’s a fact that no one can dispute. But after that, beavers don’t know how to pour water out of a boot with instructions written on the heel. We call beavers, “nature’s engineers,” a well-deserved title as per their dam-building skills. But after that, the toothy mammals put an end to any anthropomorphic meanderings.
For instance, most of us have seen where beavers have felled trees, trees that they would later peel and cut into sections. We quite naturally assume that beavers are skilled woodcutters. But in reality they are not. Beavers have not a clue where a tree will fall.
As proof, those who spend time around wetlands and beaver ponds can testify to finding dead beavers, crushed by the tree they cut. Sorry to shatter any romantic notions regarding beavers, but they really don’t have any sense of reasoning.
This is like the beloved, pet dog, who the loving owner says is, “almost human.” Well, Fido is “almost human,” until he rolls on a fresh cow patty or dead and decomposing chicken. The worst of it is, the dog thinks it has done some admirable thing, as evidenced by it grinning and happily wagging its tail.
Don’t get me wrong. I love our birds, fish and critters. But at the same time, I am familiar enough with them to not assign qualities that they don’t possess. That’s just the reality of it.
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An avid writer and naturalist, Tom writes four regular columns and a multitude of features. He wrote a long running award winning column "Waldo County Outdoors" and a garden column for Courier Publications