Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Tyrannidae | [latin] Sayornis phoebe | [UK] Eastern Phoebe | [FR] Moucherolle Phoebe | [DE] Phoebe | [ES] Mosquero Fibi | [NL] Phoebe


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

The Eastern Phoebe is medium-sized flycatcher, dull in coloration to blend in with its surrounding woodland habitat. It ranges from 14-17 cm, and the male is generally larger than the female. The plumage of the male also tends to be darker, but neither of these characteristics is a failsafe means of determining the bird’s sex. The upperparts of the adults are olive or grayish-brown, and the underparts tend to be pale buff. Juveniles have white bars on their wings. The bill is black

Listen to the sound of Eastern Phoebe

[audio:http://www.aviflevoland.nl/sounddb/E/Eastern Phoebe.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: cm wingspan max.: cm
size min.: 14 cm size max.: 17 cm
incubation min.: 16 days incubation max.: 17 days
fledging min.: 16 days fledging max.: 17 days
broods: 2   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 6  


North America : East, Central


The Eastern Phoebe occurs in woodlands and in woody vegetation. They seem to prefer deciduous woodlands, and perhaps edge forest, and open habitats rather than mature or closed forests. There is some evidence that they prefer to be near water, but the availability of suitable nesting habitat limits them more often than preference


The Eastern Phoebe is monogamous and usually double-brooded. Pair formation occurs quickly after they arrive on the breeding grounds in spring. No recurrent courtship displays have been documented. The female always initiates copulation, usually in the mornings only, during the male’s pre-dawn song. After pairs are formed, nest-building begins immediately, which helps them to establish territory. The female chooses the nest site. She alone builds it, though the male is with her continuously while she builds, most likely guarding his mate. The nests are made of mud, moss, some leaves, and lined with fine grass, stems and hair. Phoebes often reuse nests, of their own species or another species, though never without renovating them first. They also often build over old eggs or dead young. The nests are always built with cover overhead. Suitable nesting habitat for Eastern Phoebes is limited, so there is strong site attachment in this species. Often the same pair will breed at the same site for several successive years. Eastern phoebes keep the same nest and same mate for both broods. The laying of the first clutch usually begins 7-14 days after the nest is complete. The clutch can be 2-6, but usually 5 eggs are laid. The eggs are white with little gloss, and they sometimes have a few reddish-brown dots on one end. Incubation lasts about 16 days, less for the second brood which occurs in summer. Incubation is carried out solely by the female, and the male does not feed her while she sits. Most eggs hatch within a 24-hour period, and the female removes the eggshells from the nest immediately afterwards. Though the chicks are able to fly by day 15, they usually do not fledge until day 16 or 18. Both males and females feed the young. The young are capable of breeding in their first year.
The Eastern Phoebe is strongly parasitized by the Brown-headed Cowbird. Cowbird females often remove phoebe eggs in the process of leaving their own, and the egg is rarely rejected by the phoebe female. In most of these nests only the cowbird egg hatches, but if the phoebe egg does hatch, it will do so a few days later and the phoebe chick will usually starve. The fledgling success of cowbirds in parasitized phoebe nests is about 60-70%, about the same rate of success as phoebes in unparasitized nests.

Feeding habits

The Eastern Phoebe is predominantly insectivorous, consuming mostly flying insects such as wasps, ants, flies and wild bees. Invertebrates such as grasshoppers, airborn spiders, hairworms from the water and even small fishes from shallow water round out their diet. It has been observed that it can survive on fruit when insects are unavailable. Flycatching is its main means of obtaining food, usually done from a perch less than 10 meters off the ground. It also occasionally chases flying insects to the ground, pounces on insects on the ground, and picks insects from trees while hovering. Its most active foraging period occurs in the morning


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Eastern Phoebe status Least Concern


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.

Distribution map

Eastern Phoebe distribution range map

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *