Weekly Wings and Migration Madness are part of a seasonal series. To see past entries, click here!

Weekly Wings: Eastern Phoebe

For many birders, the Eastern Phoebe marks the official start of spring. The phoebe, a kind of fly-catcher, arrives in New England from its winter quarters in the Southern U.S. and Mexico right around the spring equinox, generally following the insect life as it awakens northward.

The Eastern Phoebe is not a showy bird, brownish-gray above and off-white below with a dusky wash to the sides of the breast. But, while drab in their plumage, they more than make up for it with a sweet song and an entertaining tail wag.

With a distinctive but rough two-note call that sounds like “fee-ah-bee” or “whee-bee,” phoebes can usually be found perched on low branches or fence lines, calling out its name and flicking its tail up and down, side to side. Click here to listen to a recording of an Eastern Phoebe.

When it sees an insect that looks particularly delicious, it will dart from its perch and snap it up in its beak, then return to wait for another. Occasionally the phoebe will chase flying insects to the ground or pick insects from trees while hovering.

Eastern phoebes have been sighted across New York City, from Central Park to Green-wood Cemetery, so celebrate! Spring is finally here! Have you spotted a phoebe yet?

Migration Madness: There’s Oil in Your Flyway

Galveston Bay. Photo credit: Smiley N. Pool/Houston Chronicle/AP
Galveston Bay. Photo credit: Smiley N. Pool/Houston Chronicle/AP

There’s never a good time for an oil spill, but last month’s 168,000-gallon leak in the Galveston Bay came at a particularly bad time: peak migration season.

Located along the upper coast of Texas, Galveston Bay is the 7th largest estuary in the United States, and situated in the Central Flyway. On March 22, a barge carrying nearly a million gallons of especially thick and tarry marine fuel oil collided with another ship in the Houston Ship Channel.

Just to the east of this channel lies the internationally-recognized Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, a preserved area of marshy mudflats which attracts 50-70,000 geese, ducks, herons, and other waterbirds each year.

David Newstead, a research scientist at the nonprofit Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, emphasized the bad timing, noting that many of these shorebirds will soon depart for the Arctic Circle for breeding.

To prepare, they must put on a large amount of weight—but oiled birds will focus on preening instead of eating. “The consequence is that they’ll depart, basically without gas, and crash and burn on the way,” Newstead told The Texas Tribune.

Others won’t even get the chance: so far the Coast Guard has reportedly collected than 300 dead oiled birds, and observed at least 500 more with some traces of the contaminant on their bodies. Twenty-nine dead dolphins have also been found, though scientists are still working to determine the cause of their death.