White-tailed deer and Eastern Phoebe. Photograph by the author.
In late summer, white-tailed deer are drawn to our orchard in West Newbury, Massachusetts, happily feasting on peaches and apples. Our resident Eastern Phoebe pair also enjoys perching on the orchard branches.
Over several years of careful observation, I discovered an unexpected connection between them. In some of my photos of the deer, a phoebe can also be seen. Surely, this was just a coincidence, I thought, given that both creatures simply enjoy visiting the orchard. It was not until I witnessed a phoebe flying directly at a deer that I started wondering about a connection between the two. The deer did not seem to mind this dive-bombing attention. Was the phoebe perhaps catching insects off the deer? I hoped to capture this behavior with my camera.
My photo opportunity came this past August when I noticed a phoebe and a deer together again. I shot through a window to avoid disrupting the occasion. The phoebe made several flights right at the deer. I also observed that the deer closed its eyes as the bird got close to it. It certainly looked like a cooperative endeavor. After five or so encounters, the deer seemed to give the phoebe a look as if to say "Thank you very much," and walked away.
So, it looks as if the draw of the orchard includes more than the fruit for the deer, but an opportunity for the flycatchers as well.