Eastern Phoebe

Sayornis phoebe


Early Spring Date: March 1
Late Spring Date: May 28
Most Frequently Seen: March 22 - April 2

Eastern Phoebes can be seen at Monticello Park at the beginning of March. Some phoebes spend the winter in the Washington metro area, while other pass through while migrating north. Some breed in our area, but not at Monticello Park. They often build nests under bridges and on buildings. The best time to look for them at Monticello is during the last week in March.

Where to See Them in the Park

Phoebes are quite vocal and typically perch on low branches. They can be seen almost anywhere in the park. They are easier to find than most of the other flycatchers, because they usually are in the park before the trees are leafed out.

Physical Description


Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe - Photo by William Higgins

Phoebes are flycatchers who are dull brown on the back and light underneath. The sexes are similar. They compulsively pump their tail, and this behavior can be a useful identification tool for separating phoebes from other flycatchers. They can raise the feathers on the crest of their heads.

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe - Photo by Michael Pollack

Phoebes have a smudge on the side of their breast, and sometimes, there is a lemon wash on the belly.

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe - Photo by Michael Pollack

Phoebes sometimes go to the stream for a quick dip. They typically hit the surface of the water and bounce right back out, tending not to linger.

Vocalizations

Eastern Phoebes get their name from their song, which they sing in a raspy voice. The name is spelled the same as the name of the Titan from Greek mythology who was the daughter of Gaia, the Earth goddess. The Titan Phoebe has no connection with the bird.

Hear the vocalizations of the Eastern Phoebe.

Notes

Bird banding involves capturing birds, recording information about their physical characteristics, and putting numbered or colored aluminum bands around their leg. For migratory birds, the bands can allow researchers to determine if a recaptured bird might be the same individual who was banded in a previous year or season. In North America, the first person known to experiment with migratory bird banding was John James Audubon. In the early 1800s, he tied a thread to the leg of an Eastern Phoebe to determine if the same bird would come back to his property the following year, and it did.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Eastern from its range. Phoebe from its call.
Genus Name: Sayornis means "Say's bird", after American entomologist Thomas Say.
Species Name: Phoebe from its call.

Eastern Phoebe video footage

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