Thom Smith: This bird identifies itself with a raspy singing of 'phoebe'

Q This little bird (photo was included) is apparently nesting under my deck and generally hanging about — even attacking himself in the side view mirror on my car. Must have found a girlfriend since he doesn't do that much anymore. I have looked through my Sibley's (Guide to Birds), and the closest I see is a phoebe. He does seem to be a bug catcher the way he swoops around the yard. Is this a possible ID for him?     

As always thanks for your interesting columns and the advice about cats. I always feel a little guilty about keeping mine in but I do for all the reasons you have listed, including saving the birds.

- Susan M.

A You are correct, and it is one of our common flycatchers that breeds here. He tells us his name with a raspy singing of "phoebe," certainly much hoarser than the pure whistle of the black-capped chickadee in the late winter and early spring. If you haven't already, look along the siding under the eaves and you will probably find its mud, grass, rootlets and moss nest usually on some protrusion or ledge of some sort. Also, look for the nest on or in a shed, barn or detached garage, where the nest will be constructed on a rafter. Nests are used for only one season, although birds may return to the same general area year after year.

This species is said to be the first American bird to be banded in North America, when naturalist and painter John James Audubon tied silver wires around the legs of a brood of phoebes in 1803. This tactic allowed him to identify two of the nestlings when they returned the following year.


I have only received five or six queries about ridding pets (all dogs) of skunk thus far this season, and the most definitive answer I give often includes debunking the idea that tomato juice is a proven winner. It isn't.

We humans have an efficient olfactory system, although not nearly as good as many mammals. One of its blessings is odor fatigue, especially when it comes to strong odors like skunk spray. Our reason for believing a bath in tomato juice will eliminate the skunk odor is that at high doses the skunk smell fatigues the nose, which begins to quit smelling it (olfactory fatigue), and accepts the new odor of tomato juice when introduced. The more you scrub, the less the skunk odor (as far as you are concerned), but let a new person enter the room and although you insist that only the juice odor is present, the visitor will confirm the skunk spray's odor has not been "neutralized."

Here is how you make your own skunk odor remover (provided by Humane Society of the United States,

Step 1: Keep Fido outside

You'll probably want to keep your dog outside while you get it together so they don't carry the smell indoors. Check their eyes; if they're irritated or red, immediately flush them with cool water.

Step 2: Mix the Ingredients

Mix together:

1 quart of 3-percent hydrogen peroxide (available at any pharmacy)

1/4 cup baking soda

1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap

Wearing rubber gloves, wash your dog with this solution immediately after they've been sprayed. Do not get the solution in their eyes. (If you don't have peroxide, baking soda, and liquid soap on hand, use vinegar diluted with water.)

Caution: Do not store this mixture or make it ahead of time, as the mixture could explode if left in a bottle.

Step 3: Clean and rinse

Rub the mixture through their fur, but don't leave it on too long (peroxide can bleach fur). Rinse them thoroughly.

Step 4: Shampoo

Next, wash your dog with pet shampoo and rinse thoroughly. By now, they should be de-skunked and smelling sweet. Thoroughly towel-dry your dog, and be sure to place them in a warm, sunny room for the next couple of hours so that they don't get chilled.

Owner cleanup

If your dog rubbed some of the stink onto you, you can rid your clothes of the smell by using regular laundry detergent mixed with a half-cup of baking soda.

If you decide to buy something, look for a product containing enzymes in the list of ingredients, and when using, first read all of the instructions and keep out of pet's eyes.

questions and comments.

Email him at Naturewatch @ or write him care of

The Berkshire Eagle, 75 South

Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201


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