At least four kinds of small birds raise young along the shores of clear-running woodland streams in southeastern Pennsylvania, as elsewhere in the eastern United States.

Each species of birds, including Louisiana waterthrushes, Acadian flycatchers, eastern phoebes, and veeries, has a unique lifestyle while nesting along shallow, rock-bottomed streams in the woods, resulting in a minimum of competition for food and nesting sites.

All these species basically have plain brown or gray feathering that blends them into their woodland background. That camouflaging allows these birds, and their offspring, to be nearly invisible to hawks and other predators.

Waterthrushes hatch young in leaf-lined nurseries tucked in crannies in streambanks in the woods. Males of this species sing loud songs to be heard by females above the pleasant music of waterways tumbling over rocks.

Waterthrush parents feed aquatic invertebrates they find under stones in the shallows of stream shorelines to their youngsters.

And, interestingly, those parents have a unique way of blending into the streamside to avoid capture from predators. They bob and dance as they walk in the shallows, as though they are small forest debris bouncing in the current.

Acadian flycatchers catch flying insects over and along woodland streams by perching on twigs by the water and watching for potential victims to flutter by. They seize their prey in their beaks in midair, one at a time, and flit back to twigs to swallow those insects and look for more to snare.

Male Acadians sing an explosive “pit-cheee” that is heard above the trickling of stream currents. Meanwhile, females build open-cup cradles of rootlets and grass and attach them to forked twigs, mostly on ones that hang over the waterways. And many female Acadians, being little botanists, create their nurseries on beech trees.

Eastern phoebes make cradles of mud and moss on rock ledges under protective, overhanging boulders near little waterways in the woods. Some more adaptable pairs, however, build nurseries on support beams under little bridges and porch roofs in woodlands.

Male phoebes repeatedly sing “fee-bee, fee-bee” to establish and maintain territorial rights. And both parents feed flying insects to their young.

Veeries are a kind of spot-breasted thrush that rears progeny in leafy nests on dead-leaf-carpeted forest floors.

Males of this species repeatedly sing lovely, flutelike songs that swirl breezily downward in pitch. And both parents feed their young invertebrates they gather from woodland floors, much the way their relatives, the robins, do on lawns.

All these streamside nesting birds are pretty and intriguing. Knowing them and their beautiful niches is delightful.


Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.

Have questions?

We are just a click away!