Say’s Phoebe

(Photo gallery below)

The Say’s Phoebe belongs to a category called “Tyrant Flycatchers” which are named for their aggressive behavior; they drive other species away from their nesting territory. Say's Phoebe|Bolsa Chica|Huntington Beach, CA However, these birds are less aggressive and have soft voices.  Look closely, the Say’s Phoebe might be easy for you to miss because its drab coloring blends easily into its environment.


This slender flycatcher has a longer tail and a flatter head than the black Phoebe.  It is about 7 ½” long, with a dusky colored head and gray upper parts. Its throat and breast are light gray and you will find a distinctive rusty colored belly and under tail. The Say’s Phoebe is darkest on its head, behind its neck, eyes, lores, and on its wings.  The narrow bill and tail are solid black.  Juveniles are similar to adults but are browner.  They have 2 cinnamon wing bars and cinnamon on the tips of the feathers on their upperparts.  The adults do not have wing bars.

Range and Habitat

The Say’s Phoebe summers in the United States, Canada, and Alaska, and winters in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America. In the southern part of its range, it is a permanent resident. It is casual in the eastern North America.  You will find the Say’s Phoebe in open country perched on fences and posts.  It prefers dry and sunny locations with areas of open fields like desert scrubs, coastal lowlands, bushy plains, parks, and ranches.  It is very migratory; migration begins in early spring.


This bird has flycatcher habits, darting out from fences and perches to catch insects in flight. It will also forage in the trees and will hover over fields.  It eats mostly insects but will eat berries when insects are not available. A favorite food is grasshoppers.  It has a fluttering flight and wags its tail like other phoebes.  It also dips and spreads its tail when perched.  The song of the Say’s Phoebe is only heard on its breeding territory. It sounds like a down-slurred whistle.

Breeding and Nesting

The Say’s Phoebes breeding period is May-July.  They breed farther north than other flycatchers, past the tree line in western Alaska, and south through the western mountains to Mexico.  They are monogamous. The nests are made of mosses and grasses, and are held together by spider webs, instead of mud like other Phoebe nests.  You might see their nests in man-made structures, bridges or cliff ledges.  The female lays 4-7 eggs and incubates her eggs for 2 weeks.  Both adults will feed their young, with the young fledgling in 12-14 days. At this point, the adults may reuse the nest for a second clutch.

Photo Gallery Say’s Phoebe

(click to enlarge)