Monday, January 27, 2014

A Somewhat Famous Bird

So what's famous about an Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)?

It isn't fabulously coloured.  Rather, it definitely fits in the ubiquitous 'lbj' category (little brown job) of birds.  Overall drab, medium-sized flycatcher, grey-brown uppers, pale whitish-yellow unders, maybe a bit more yellow on the belly, no eye-ring, no wing bars, black bill and legs, long tail.  Largish head.  Sexes similar.  (Yawn)

There are a couple of things about this bird, though, that make it quickly identifiable.  It sits perkily upright on its perch, and its tail is usually in motion, pumping and wagging.

And because it is a flycatcher, its mode of operation is to perch on a branch, sally out to snap up an insect, return to perch (or take tasty morsel over to nest to feed one of the 4-5 youngsters raised yearly).  If near water, they will pluck insects and aquatic invertebrates off the water surface.


Eastern Phoebes don't winter very far south, so are one of the earliest returning songbirds birds in spring.  This fact alone makes it one of my favourites.  Nothing is as joyful sounding in mid-April, as a snappy "fee-bee" coming from the bushes near a low bridge over the river.  "Hello, I'm back!"

Another fairly unique thing is that Eastern Phoebes have adapted better than many species to the steady removal of natural habitat and the building of man-made structures.  Nowadays, they typically place their mud-and-grass nests in protected nooks on bridges, barns, and houses, preferably near water. 

Consider yourself lucky if one should decide to build on your property.   Excellent natural insect control.  Also, please don't destroy the nest at the end of the season as the bird will probably return to it the following year.

Now we are coming to the Somewhat Famous bit....

In 1804, John James Audubon tied a silver string to the leg of an Eastern Phoebe to see if it would return to the same nest site the following year, thus becoming the first bird to be banded in North America. 

Eastern Phoebe Range Map

Information Sources
All About Birds
Birds of Canada


  1. Great photos! You do some amazing work. I was hoping to get in touch with you but the email address I found bounced back as a bad one. I hope you will get in touch with me.

    1. Ernie, Thank You, and thanks for visiting my blog. I'll be in touch via email

  2. Great post and thank you for joining my blog!

    1. My pleasure and thanks for joining mine. There aren't too many birding bloggers out here in the Canadian prairies.

  3. Wonderful post, Kathy. I didn't know the Phoebe was the first bird banded -- very neat!

    1. Thanks, Charlotte. I enjoy finding out odd things about birds.