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PHŒBE’S FAMILY

   My first acquaintance with Phœbe began at the garden gate, on the morning that she and her mate called to look for lodgings.
    I could see, at a glance, that their hearts were set on having the broad beam that upheld the roof of my balcony; so I made them welcome.
   It was a bright spring morning, and I remember just how Phœbe was dressed.
   She was clad in a sensible, dull, olive brown; her small crest was a trifle darker than her body, and underneath she was of a yellowish white.
   Her eyes were brown, but her feet, as well as her bill, were black. The brown feathers of her wings were edged with a dull white, and so was the outer edge of the feathers of her forked tail.
   Her mate was clad in about the same fashion, only that the sides of his neck were darker.
   It was a balmy morning in April when they began to build their nest.
   The whole front of the balcony was draped with vines, so that when it was clothed with leaves it made a heavy, thick curtain of green; and here the nest was hidden, and secure from harm.
   This nest was made of grasses and moss, plastered

 

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together with mud, and was lined with bits of down, hair, and shreds of wool.
   Ah, it took many and many a weary flight to gather the materials for that modest home.
   Back and forth, back and forth, the happy couple flew, bearing in their slender bills a scrap of moss

 

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or a mite of down, till at last the whole thing was finished, handsome and complete.
   I placed a stepladder conveniently near, where I could stand and look into the nest; for although I had every reason to believe that Phœbe was a painstaking and tidy little housekeeper, yet I rather wanted to see the inside of her home for myself.
   So one day, when she and her mate were not there, I peeped in at the nest, and lo, there was a small, creamed-white egg, spotted on the larger end with reddish brown! I was very careful not to touch it.
   The next day I looked in again, and there was another. And so, day after day, a new egg was added to the number, till there were five of them in all.
   Then I noticed that Phœbe began to stay at home a good deal; and if she did chance to go out for a little airing, her mate always took her place.
   At length, one morning, I thought I heard a low peep, and seeing that both of the birds were away, I glanced in at the nest.
   There I saw four tiny young birds, cuddled down close together. I found that one of the eggs did not hatch, and that it had been thrown out of the nest to the porch.

 

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   But what a clamor there was among the young ones when the old birds came back with food! Why, they opened their mouths so wide that it did seem as if their heads would split open. And such dainty food as was brought to them!
   There were no wriggling worms, and no stale pieces that some other bird had discarded. No, indeed! for Phœbe’s children must have the freshest meat in the market.
   In order to secure this, it must be taken on the wing; for the couple belonged to the family of flycatchers, and woe to the unlucky insect that came within reach of their open bills.
    As for the parent birds, they usually bolted their food at one mouthful, but the infants were fed in not quite so hasty a manner.
   And so they ate and ate, and grew stronger every day, and when they were a week old, I thought it was time to name them; so I gave each of them a pretty double name.
    I called one of them Fluff Wing; another, Feather Down; a third, Brown Breast; and because

 

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the very smallest one of the family looked so much like its mother, I called her Phœbe Junior.
   Now, a better behaved family of children one could not desire to see; there was no confusion whatever in the nest, and I never heard an angry peep from one of them.
   What was my surprise, then, on seeing them when they were a little more than two weeks old, all sitting in a row on the garden paling, while both the father and mother were perched on a low bough, chirping loudly, in a harsh, scolding tone.
   I ran to look into the nest, thinking that perhaps some enemy had driven the family from home; but I saw nothing.
   Finally, in about an hour, the young birds left their perch, and flew toward the nest, a few paces at a time; for their wings were weak and their flights were short, and they made several stops before reaching home.
   The next day, not hearing any sound from my little neighbors, I peeped in again, and behold, the nest was empty!
   On the day following, Phœbe and her mate came back, but the young ones were nowhere to be seen.
   They at once began to clean and repair the nest. They threw out bits of thread, down, hair, moss,

 

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and other things that seemed to be in their way; and then added a mite of down here, and a thread of wool there, till the nest was all ready for use again.
   Then Phœbe laid four small, cream-white eggs like the others, and in due time her heart was made glad by hearing the faint “peep peep” of four wee baby birds.
   Both parents seemed quite as proud of their second brood as of the first, and were never weary of cramming them with the rarest tidbits that they could find.
   And when the children were a little more than two weeks old, they were driven from the nest to the garden paling, and were taught to try their wings, in the same way as the other brood.
   A day or two later, the whole family disappeared; and what is strangest of all, they went away in the night.
   Now, as Phœbe and her mate had occupied their snug quarters all this time, free of charge, I thought it was rather ungrateful of them to steal away in such a manner as that.
   But I have since learned that it is the habit of this family of flycatchers, on the approach of autumn, to forsake the nest at night, and travel southward to a milder clime.

 

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   Who knows but that their little hearts are so sad, at leaving the home in which they have been so happy, that they can not well endure a final leave-taking in the open sunlight?
   I felt very lonely after they were gone, for I never expected to see them again.
   But behold! when the genial sunshine and the gentle raindrops of the next spring brought back the swelling leaf buds of the boughs, I heard, one day, a low chirp at the garden gate.
   And then two little birds, clad in dull, olive brown, flew in at the old nest on the beam; and I hailed their coming with delight.
   One of them was Phœbe’s mate, but the other was a shy little creature, of a much smaller size than the Phœbe that I had known, and—let me whisper a little secret in your ear—Phœbe’s mate had come back with a second wife!

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