EASTERN PHOEBE – (Sayornis phoebe)
The Eastern Phoebe is a small passerine that is part of the Tyrant flycatcher family. It has a dark grey-brown head with a sometimes visible crest. The upper parts are grey and the under parts generally white. There are two faint wing bars. It has a plump body shape and is about 15 cm (6 in.) long. The bill and legs are dark grey. The bird wags its tail up and down when perched.
The English name ‘Phoebe’ is an onomatopoeia for the bird’s call. The Latin name ‘Sayornis’ comes from ‘Say’ and ‘ornis’ (Greek for ‘bird’). Thomas Say was an American entomologist and this species was named in his honor.
As with other flycatchers, the eastern phoebe perches on a post or on top of a tree and waits for an insect to fly by. It then catches it mid-air and returns to its perch. In addition to flying insects. this species will also feed on spiders and other invertebrates on the ground, and also on berries and seeds when available.
The habitat of the eastern phoebe is the open forest with some wetland or water nearby. This is a species that has adjusted to the human environment to the point where now most of its nests are found under or on structures such as bridges, buildings, even large culverts! In its more natural settings however, the nest would be located on rocks with some under story vegetation nearby. In order for the nest to adhere to smooth or vertical surfaces, the eastern phoebe uses mud mixed with plant material and animal hair.
The eastern phoebe does not breed on PEI, and there have only been rare or uncommon sightings of this bird on the island throughout the seasons except winter. It does breed elsewhere in the Maritimes however, and its overall breeding range covers the mixed forests of Canada except British Columbia, and most of the eastern half of the USA. The northernmost population that migrates for the winter will spend that season in the southeast part of the USA, and the northeast part of Mexico.
Conservation: numbers of the eastern phoebe appear stable in spite of their nests being removed from structures sometimes for aesthetic or sanitary reasons. On the other hand, thanks to that species’ inclination for nesting on structures, this adaptation appears to help make up for other threats. However the species if vulnerable to brood parasitism from Brown-headed Cowbirds, as can be seen below.