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Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

Mike Oxley

Cornwall Ontario, Canada

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Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe

Cooper Marsh Conservation Area, Lancaster, Ontario, Canada
June 3, 2011


Phoebe or Phebe is a female given name (Ancient Greek: Φοίβη), meaning “bright and shining” deriving from Greek ‘phoibos’ (φοιβος).

At the edge of Turtle Pond there are a number of trees that are rather the worse for wear. Some provide sunbathing spots for the turtles, while others attract the birds. If you wait long enough, some bird or another will show up and this dead branch is a particularly popular spot. This little one arrived, scoped out the area, grabbed a few bugs and returned to the same spot. Frequently. A most obliging wee bird!

With thanks to www.allaboutbirds.org and www.oiseaux-birds.com

Fr: Moucherolle phébi

All: Weißbauch-Phoebetyrann

Esp: Mosquero Fibí

Ital: Febo orientale

Nd: Phoebe

Russe: Восточный феб 

Sd: Grå fibi


Eastern Phoebe has very black bill, eyes and legs, and long tail. It has relatively dark brown hood, wings and tail, offering a contrast with the dull brown of the remainder of the upperparts, and mostly fairly pure white underparts. The breast sides are dusky. 
Autumn adult has light yellowish wash on the underparts.


Eastern Phoebe’s call is a sharp, clear “chip” or “tsyp”. Song is a harsh, emphatic “fee-be”, with the second syllable harshest, rasping, or with a stuttered whistler second note “fee-b-be-bee”.


Eastern Phoebe occurs in wooded or partly wooded habitats, almost always near rivers or streams, and along forest edges.


Eastern Phoebe breeds from SE Yukon and NE British Columbia, eastwards to Nova Scotia and S Quebec, southwards to C Texas, N Mississippi, and C Georgia. 
It winters from Maryland, West Virginia, and very southern Illinois, and SE Oklahoma, southwards to Florida, the Gulf Coast and E Mexico.


To feed, Eastern Phoebe has several manners: by flycatching, from a perch less than 10 metres off the ground; by chasing flying insects to the ground, by pouncing on insects on the ground, and picking them while hovering. Its most active period is the morning. 
When is alighted on a perch, Eastern Phoebe sweeps its tail widely up and down, and then side to side.


Eastern Phoebe feeds primarily on insects, such as flying insects, wasps, ants, flies, and wild bees. They eat also invertebrates such as grasshoppers, spiders, hair worms from the water, and small fishes and crustaceans in shallow water. It may eat some fruit and few seeds, when insects are less abundant.


Eastern Phoebe’s nest is strongly parasitized by brown-headed cowbird. Female cowbird removes Phoebe’s eggs, and its egg is rarely rejected by the Eastern Phoebe female. 
Eastern Phoebe is very tolerant of human presence. Man-made structures as substitute nest sites have greatly facilitated their expansion across North America.

In 1804, the Eastern Phoebe became the first banded bird in North America. John James Audubon attached silvered thread to an Eastern Phoebe’s leg to track its return in successive years.

The Eastern Phoebe is a loner, rarely coming in contact with other phoebes. Even members of a mated pair do not spend much time together. They may roost together a bit early in pair formation, but even during egg laying the female frequently chases the male away from her.

The use of buildings and bridges for nest sites has allowed the Eastern Phoebe to tolerate the landscape changes made by humans and even expand its range. However, it still uses natural nest sites when they are available.

Sony Alpha 700, Sigma 170 to 500 at 500 mm
iso 400, spot metered, f8.0, 1/640 second

Artwork Comments

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