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A photo of a Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Sayornis phoebe

The Eastern Phoebe, Sayornis phoebe, is a modestly sized passerine, a member of the Tyrannidae family. It is characterized by a somewhat large head, which can appear even more pronounced when its small crest is raised. The bird's plumage is a muted gray-brown on the upper parts, transitioning to a white throat. The breast is a dingy gray, while the underparts are buff, becoming whiter as the breeding season progresses. Each wing bears two indistinct buff bars. The Eastern Phoebe is distinguishable from its relatives by its lack of an eye ring and wingbars, as well as its all-dark bill. A notable behavior is its tail pumping, a motion it shares with other phoebes.

Identification Tips

When identifying the Eastern Phoebe, look for its sharp "chip" call and its distinctive song, which sounds like "fee-bee." The bird's habit of tail bobbing while perched is a key identification feature. Its size is also a clue, with a length of 5.5-6.7 inches (14-17 cm), a wingspan of 10.2-11.0 inches (26-28 cm), and a weight of 0.6-0.7 ounces (16-21 g).


The Eastern Phoebe thrives in a variety of environments, including wooded areas near streams, farmlands, and urban settings. It prefers the shelter of trees, brush, or overhangs, avoiding open spaces.


This bird breeds in eastern North America, with its range excluding the southeastern coastal United States. It is migratory, wintering in the southern United States and Central America.


The Eastern Phoebe is an insectivore, often seen perched conspicuously as it hunts for food. It also consumes fruits and berries when the weather turns colder. This species is known for its adaptability, often nesting on human-made structures.

Song & Calls

The Eastern Phoebe's vocalizations include a sharp "chip" call and a song that resembles "fee-bee."


Breeding occurs in open woodlands, farmlands, and suburban areas, often near water. The nest is an open cup with a mud base, lined with moss and grass, and is typically built in a crevice or on a man-made structure. The Eastern Phoebe lays two to six eggs and is known to raise two broods annually. It may occasionally become a host to the nest-parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird.

Similar Species

The Eastern Wood Pewee (Contopus virens) is remarkably similar in appearance but can be differentiated by its lack of the buff hue found in the Eastern Phoebe's plumage, its clearly defined wing-bars, and the absence of habitual tail bobbing.

Diet and Feeding

The Eastern Phoebe's diet consists primarily of insects, but it will also eat fruits and berries in colder weather. It is often observed perching in open areas as it searches for food.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List classifies the Eastern Phoebe as Least Concern, indicating that it is not currently at significant risk of widespread decline.

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Eastern Phoebes on Birda


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