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Eastern Phoebe

Sayornis Phoebe

Length: 7 inches Wingspan: 11.5 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Strong contrast between white throat and brownish-gray head, plain otherwise, off-white underparts, gray to brownish-gray upperparts

Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebeThe Eastern Phoebe is one of the earliest migrants in much of the eastern United States.  Unlike most of the Empidonax flycatchers, they are generally easy to identify, due to a well-known fee-bee song and their habit of repeatedly wagging its tail up and down.  They are often quite tame, and have greatly benefited by the presence of humans since they will often use buildings and bridges for nesting.

Habitat: During the summer breeding season, they are most often found in semi-open country or open woodlands, primarily near water.  In migration and during the winter, they are generally found around woodland edges, woodland clearings, and brushy fields.

Diet: Primarily feeds on insects, especially during the summer breeding season, as well as spiders and millipedes.  Small fruits and berries make up an important component of the winter diet.

Behavior: Eastern Phoebes will often pump their tail while perched, similar to some other flycatchers.  They are generally a solitary species, with even mated pairs not associating very closely immediately after breeding.   Much of its foraging is done through flying out from a perch to catch flying insects, but they will also hover near vegetation to glean insects from foliage and branches.

Nesting: May through July

Song: Soft fee-bee, with second note lower.  Click to listen to Eastern Phoebe song.

Migration: Summers throughout the eastern half of the United States, and into much of central and southeastern Canada.  Winters in the southeastern United States and Mexico.  Eastern Phoebes are relatively early to migrate northward in the Spring, and late to migrate southward in the Fall.

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Eastern Phoebe sightings

Similar Species: Eastern Wood-Pewee

Conservation Status: Numbers are probably higher than in pre-settlement times, as man-made structures have greatly increased potential nesting sites.  Numbers are currently stable.

Further Information: 1)  USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Eastern Phoebe

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Eastern Phoebe"

3) Eastern Phoebe

Photo Information: September 30th, 2008 - Newton Hills State Park, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Eastern Phoebe photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view 
Eastern Phoebe - Range map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon summer breeder, except rare in the far western part of the state.

Additional Eastern Phoebe Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe