Say's Phoebe

Sayornis saya

Like other phoebes, the rusty-bellied Say's Phoebe is common around people, often nesting on buildings. A bird of open country, it is found from Alaska through Mexico.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • The Say's Phoebe breeds farther north than any other flycatcher, seemingly limited only by the lack of nest sites. It breeds north past tree line, and may be following the Alaska pipeline even farther north, nesting on the pipeline itself.
  • The numbers of this bird are declining, probably due to loss of habitat in its winter range.
  • This bird was named for Thomas Say, the American naturalist.
  • A group of flycatchers has many collective nouns, including an "outfield", "swatting", "zapper", and "zipper" of flycatchers.


Adult Description

  • Small songbird; medium-sized flycatcher.
  • Upperparts pale brownish gray.
  • Belly and undertail cinnamon.
  • Wags tail.

Immature Description

Immature like adult, but browner and may show buff wingbar.
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 saya
  • Sayornis saya pallidus
  • Sayornis saya quiescens
  • Sayornis saya saya
Song a low, whistled "pit-tsee-eur" alternated with a burry upslurred "churr-eep." Also a "phee-eur."

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
  • Length Range: 18-20 cm (7-8 in)
  • Weight: 20 g (0.7 oz)
  • Size: Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Gray
  • Underparts: Pale gray with pale red-brown belly and sides.
  • 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: Pale Gray
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Buoyant fluttering flight with shallow wing beats., Hovers, dips for prey.
  • Wingspan Range: 30-33 cm (12-13 in)
  • Wing Shape: Tapered-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Fan-shaped Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Brown-black
  • Under Tail: Brown-black
  • Leg Color: Black
  • Breeding Location: Open landscapes
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Solitary nester
  • Breeding Population: Fairly common, Stable
  • Egg Color: White, sometimes with red or brown spots
  • Number of Eggs: 3 - 7
  • Incubation Days: 12 - 14
  • Egg Incubator: Female
  • Nest Material: Grasses and mud., Lined with grass, weeds, moss, spider webs, and wool.
  • Migration: Migratory
  • Condition at Hatching: Helpless with sparse down.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Moucherolle ventre roux (French)
  • Papamoscas ilanero (Spanish)
  • Eastern Phoebe with pale gray to white below.
  • Black Phoebe black with white belly.
  • Female Vermilion Flycatcher shows reddish in the lower belly and undertail, but has white throat, pale eyeline, and dusky streaks on chest.

Conservation Status

Say's Phoebe has benefited from use of human-made structures for nest sites.


Sources used to Construct this Page:

Open country, sagebrush, badlands, dry barren foothills, canyons, borders of deserts, and ranches. Often around buildings. Avoids watercourses and heavy forest.
  • Schukman, J. M., and B. O. Wolf. 1998. Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya). In The Birds of North America, No. 374 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Flying and terrestrial insects.
Flies from perch near ground and pursues flying insects. Also hovers and gleans insects off of vegetation.

Adult Sexes Similar

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Additional Photos & Video


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

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