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Black Phoebe
Sayornis nigricans
Anatomy of a Bird

A small black-and-white flycatcher of the Southwest, the Black Phoebe is often found around people, but nearly always near water.

Range Map My Photos Of This Bird
2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Cool Facts Taxonomic Hierarchy Illustration
  • Although primarily insectivorous, the Black Phoebe occasionally catches fish. It dives into ponds to catch small minnows or other tiny fish, and may even feed fish to nestlings.
  • The male Black Phoebe shows the female potential nest sites, hovering in front of a likely spot for 5 to 10 seconds. The female makes the final decision about where to place the nest and does all the construction.
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Tyrannidae
Genus: Sayornis
Species: Sayornis nigricans
  • Sayornis nigricans amnicola
  • Sayornis nigricans angustirostris
  • Sayornis nigricans aquaticus
  • Sayornis nigricans latirostris
  • Sayornis nigricans nigricans
  • Sayornis nigricans semiater
Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley




Adult Description

  • Weight: 15-22 g (0.53-0.78 ounces)
  • Small songbird; medium-sized flycatcher.
  • Black above and below.
  • White belly and under tail.
  • Wags tail.
  • White belly extends onto chest in an inverted V.
  • Outer edge of outer tail feather white.
  • Small bill black.
  • Feet black.
  • Flycatches from exposed perch.
Sex Differences
Sexes alike.
Immature like adult, but with cinnamon edging to wing and back feathers.
Song a broken series of whistled phrases. Each phrase made of two notes, the second downslurred. "Tee-hee, Tee-hoo."

  • Breeding Location: Grassland with scattered trees, Rocky places
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Solitary nester
  • Breeding Population: Common near water
  • Egg Color: White, sometimes with red brown spots
  • Number of Eggs: 3 - 6
  • Incubation Days: 15 - 17
  • Egg Incubator: Female
  • Nest Material: Made of mud pellets and moss and lined with vegetation.
  • Migration: Some migrate
  • Condition at Hatching: Helpless with sparse down.
Body Head Flight
  • Length Range: 15-18 cm (6-7 in)
  • Weight: 20 g (0.7 oz)
  • Size: 2. Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: White, Black
  • Underparts: White
  • Upperparts: Black
  • Back Pattern: Solid
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Solid
  • Bill Shape: All-purpose
  • Eye Color: Brown.
  • Head Pattern: Plain
  • Crown Color: Black
  • Forehead Color: Black
  • Nape Color: Black
  • Throat Color: Black
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Weak fluttering flight with shallow wing beats.
  • Wingspan Range: 27-28 cm (10.5-11 in)
  • Wing Shape: Rounded-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Squared Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Black
  • Under Tail: Black
  • Leg Color: Black


Food Habitat
Found in open areas near water, along cliffs, streams, lakes, agricultural areas, and parks. Often found around buildings. Insects, some small berries and small fish. Found in open areas near water, along cliffs, streams, lakes, agricultural areas, and parks. Often found around buildings.
Other Names Similar Species Conservation Status
  • All phoebes wag their tails.
  • Say's Phoebe is gray with a reddish belly.
  • Eastern Phoebe can appear dark, but the top of head usually contrasts with a lighter back, and the throat is not black.
Black Phoebe: Eastern Phoebe has olive-gray sides and breast; gray-brown upperparts, and white underparts. Eastern Kingbird is larger, has black head, gray-black upperparts, and white underparts. Populations in United States increasing. Benefits from many human activities, but destruction of riparian habitats and diversion of water is a concern.
Video Sources Used To Construct This Page:


  • Wolf, B. O. 1997. Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans). In The Birds of North America, No. 268 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

All photos 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.
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