Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Say's Phoebe

Living in southwestern Idaho, the Say's Phoebe is "the" harbinger of Spring. American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds?...some of them stick around all winter here so they don't count. The Say's Phoebe is a bird I've come to count on showing up - like clock-work - in the Boise foothills in that last week of February. My eBird data confirms it. I usually first hear their unique whistle and then I'll find them flitting from treetops, or rooftops...well the tops of just about anything they can find to perch on from which they flycatch.
As a beginning birder in Arizona several years ago, I recall seeing a strange bird in the neighborhood with a mud nest on the porch of a home. I took the photo below with a point and shoot camera and puzzled over it for some time. I finally sent it to the AZ-NM listserv to ask for i.d. help. Kind of embarrassing as I look back on that, but I was an enthusiastic beginner and the couple of people that replied were very nice and helpful.
As I studied some of the eBird data related to the Say's Phoebe, it seems that they winter in the American Southwest and well into Mexico. They are one of the first species to migrate northward in mid-winter taking advantage of those days that warm up just enough for bugs to hatch or come out of hibernation. Hence, they are my harbinger of spring. Late winter and early Spring in Idaho can be brutal as weather fluctuates in the extreme...one day a freezing blizzard, the next day a sunny 60 degrees. Looking at the eBird map below, I'm pretty impressed that Say's Phoebes are found far into the arctic north. "Got bugs? Will handle cold snaps." seems to read their travel papers. What hardy little birds!

Upon arrival here in Idaho, they quickly they pair up. Flycatching near one another and soon building a nest together.
I've discovered Say's Phoebe's nests in random places. Pictured below is a nest made inside a large storm water drain with iron bars covering it. I've seen mud nests on many a flat surface of homes in both Idaho and Arizona. 
The Say's Phoebe. A pretty cool little bird for many different reasons. Do you get to enjoy them where you live?

(Top two images digiscoped with a Swarovski ATX spotting scope and iPhone 4s)


  1. Oh yes! Can't believe that first shot is digiscoped too, nice!

  2. Lovely post about one of my favorite birds. :-)

  3. Fantastic! We have one that comes to Lake Co every year, making it only an hour drive for me to go find it. Lovely bird, wonderful shots!

  4. Robert, I am glad they are bring spring back to you in the north! I have had them all winter and a pair is actually building a nest across the street on my neighbor's front light! I love their plaintive cry. It moves me to tears and poetry! It also reminds me of a tiny red-tail hawk!