Eastern Phoebe

Sayornis phoebe

Perhaps the most familiar flycatcher in eastern North America, the Eastern Phoebe nests near people on buildings and bridges. It can be recognized by its emphatic "phee-bee" call and its habit of constantly wagging it tail.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • 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.


Adult Description

  • Small songbird.
  • Dark grayish brown back and head.
  • Lighter underparts.
  • No eyering or conspicuous wingbars.
  • Wags tail.

Immature Description

Immature like adult, but with more yellow on belly and noticeable faint wingbars.
Range Map
Taxonomic Hierarchy


© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Tyrannidae
Genus: Sayornis
Species: Sayornis phoebe
Song is two rough, whistled notes, "fee-bee" with the second note rasping or with a stuttered, more whistly second note "fee-b-be-bee." Call note a clear chip.

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
  • Length Range: 18 cm (7 in)
  • Weight: 20 g (0.7 oz)
  • Size: Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Brown
  • Underparts: White with pale brown breast.
  • Upperparts: Gray-brown
  • Back Pattern: Solid
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Solid
  • Bill Shape: All-purpose
  • Eye Color: Brown.
  • Head Pattern: Plain
  • Crown Color: Dark gray-brown
  • Forehead Color: Dark gray-brown
  • Nape Color: Dark gray-brown
  • Throat Color: White
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Weak buoyant fluttering flight with shallow wing beats.
  • Wingspan Range: 29 cm (11.5 in)
  • Wing Shape: Pointed-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Pointed Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid with white edging.
  • Upper Tail: Dark gray-brown
  • Under Tail: Dark gray-brown
  • Leg Color: Black
  • Breeding Location: Forest, Marshes, freshwater
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Solitary nester
  • Breeding Population: Fairly common to common
  • Egg Color: White, sometimes with red brown spots
  • Number of Eggs: 2 - 8
  • Incubation Days: 16
  • Egg Incubator: Both sexes
  • Nest Material: Mud pellets covered with moss., Lined with grass, weeds, leaves, hair, and feathers.
  • Migration: Most migrate
  • Condition at Hatching: Helpless with sparse gray down. Chicks fledge in 16-18 days.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Moucherolle phébi (French)
  • Mosquero fibi (Spanish)
  • Black Phoebe is darker with a dark chest.
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee has distinct wingbars and does not wag tail.
  • Empidonax flycatchers have distinct wingbars, usually have distinct eyerings, and do not wag their tails.

Conservation Status

Populations stable or slightly increasing.


Sources used to Construct this Page:

Found in woodlands and along forest edges, often near water.
  • Weeks, H. P., Jr. 1994. Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe). In The Birds of North America, No. 94 (A. Poole, and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Flying insects. Occasional small fruits.
Flies from perch near ground and pursues flying insects. Also hovers and gleans insects from substrate.

Adult Sexes Similar

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Additional Photos & Video

Adult Sexes Similar

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

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