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Species Description

Eastern Phoebe

Sayornis phoebe

Species Image


Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Tyrannidae


Dark gray above; under sides are mostly pale with some olive wash on the sides and breast; bill is dark. 18 cm (7 in) in length. The Eastern Phoebe's song sounds similar to its name, a harsh fee-bee. In this species both the male and the female sing.

Life Cycle

The breeding season begins in late March, peaks in mid-April through May, and extends into mid-July. Breeding habitat is variable. Nest sites include ledges or sheltered areas, usually near water. The Eastern Phoebe commonly nests under bridges, in farmland areas, or on cliffs. The nest is built by the female from 6 m (0-20 feet) above the ground. The nest is built of mud and plant material, and is lined with hair and other fine materials. The nest is cup-shaped and commonly attached to the side of a bridge support, building, or on a ledge. The female lays 3-8 (usually 4-5) eggs that she incubates for approximately 16 days. The young are altricial and remain in the nest for 15-16 days. The young are cared for by both adults for an additional 2-3 weeks after they fledge from the nest.

Natural History

This species prefers to be near water and in more open habitats that allow easier foraging. The diet is primarily insects, but also includes some small fish and amphibians. Most often the Eastern Phoebe captures its food on the wing, after sitting on a perch searching for prey that flies by. In the winter its diet may also include some plant products such as fruits and seeds. The northern individuals of this species are migratory, but some southern birds will remain in an area all year.


Eastern Phoebe Region Map This species occurs in most of the eastern United States during the breeding season. In the Southeast, the Eastern Phoebe is fairly common throughout most of the area south and east of the mountains. It breeds in the northern half of Georgia and winters throughout the state; breeding populations are highest in the extreme northeastern portion and reduce in frequency farther west and south in the state. This species winters as far south as southern Mexico.

Conservation Status

This species is fairly common throughout the Southeast and is not listed as Threatened or Endangered in any portion of its southeastern range.

Similar Species

In the East, the most similar species is the Eastern Wood Peewee. The Eastern Wood Peewee has wing bars and a two-colored bill, with a light lower mandible and darker upper mandible. Other similar species in the East include the Empidonax Flycatchers - the Least, Acadian, Willow, and Alder Flycatchers. These birds have a distinctive eye ring and two distinctive white wing bars.