Phoebes usually appear in Maine in the middle of April, and right on time, they have arrived. Four hundred years ago, phoebes made their nests on cliffs and ridges near water. Phoebes are insect eaters and early in the season there aren’t too many insects to be had, except near water. When it is cold, phoebes head for a fast-moving river or stream where stoneflies live. Stoneflies are the main food which sustains phoebes until it warms up and insects are more abundant.
Stoneflies get their name from a lifestyle of living most of their lives under stones in streams. As nymphs, they live under water until ready to metamorphose. After metamorphosis, they pop up out of the water as flying adults. There are many species of stoneflies, and some metamorphose in April, March and even February. Later on, phoebes will eat beetles, wasps, ants, small wild bees, flies, bugs, grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies, moths, caterpillars, spiders, and millipedes.
Phoebes like to have a roof over their nests, which is why we often see phoebes nesting on people’s houses, under the eaves, on edges of windows and doors, on rafters in a barn, on sheds, the top of shutters, or on girders under bridges or trestles over water. Any place that offers overhead shelter will do.
Phoebes make their nest from a bit of mud and moss, lined with grasses, hair and feathers. Four hundred of years ago, they made their nests in a recessed ledge of a steep wall, a ravine or gorge or on a cliff or even in a shallow cave. Some still make nests in these natural areas, but now many phoebes nest on houses.
Phoebes come to Maine in April and leave in October. With such a long nesting season, they sometimes raise three broods in a season. Perhaps there are more phoebes now than there were 400 years ago.