As spring returns to New York, so does the eastern phoebe. This charming bird begins its courtship and nest-building in March and April. Since April is also National Poetry Month, it seems fitting to pay tribute to this little bird. The following ode to the phoebe was written by John Burroughs (1837-1921), the beloved New York naturalist who was born on April 3.
John Burroughs Memorial State Historic Site is a great place to listen for eastern phoebes!
The Coming Of Phoebe
When buckets shine ‘gainst maple trees
And dropp by dropp the sap doth flow,
When days are warm, but still nights freeze,
And deep in woods lie drifts of snow,
When cattle low and fret in stall,
Then morning brings the phoebe’s call,
phoebe, phoebe,’ a cheery note,
While cackling hens make such a rout.
When snowbanks run, and hills are bare,
And early bees hum round the hive,
When woodchucks creep from out their lair
Right glad to find themselves alive,
When sheep go nibbling through the fields,
Then phoebe oft her name reveals,
phoebe, phoebe,’ a plaintive cry,
While jack-snipes call in morning sky.
When wild ducks quack in creek and pond
And bluebirds perch on mullein-stalks,
When spring has burst her icy bond
And in brown fields the sleek crow walks,
When chipmunks court in roadside walls,
Then phoebe from the ridgeboard calls,
phoebe, phoebe,’ and lifts her cap,
While smoking Dick doth boil the sap.
Listen to the phoebe sing:
Call recorded by Ian Davies
Barrus, Clara, John Borroughs Boy and Man, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1920.
‘Breeding Season Dates.’ New York State Department of Conservation https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/brddate.pdf.
Burroughs, John, Birds and Bough, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906.
‘Eastern phoebe.’ Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Phoebe/overview.
‘Eastern phoebe song.’ Xeno-canto Foundation, https://www.xeno-canto.org/explore?query=+gen%3A%22sayornis%22+rec%3A%22ian+davies%22.