Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Say's Phoebe

Sayornis saya

This soft-voiced flycatcher of the west is like the other two phoebes in its tail-wagging habit; but unlike them, it often lives in very dry country, far from water. It is typical of prairies, badlands, and ranch country, often placing its nest under the eaves of a porch or barn. In open terrain where there are few high perches, Say's Phoebe may watch for insects in the grass by hovering low over the fields.
Conservation status Adapts well to changes in landscape, often nesting in residential areas. Numbers apparently stable.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Scrub, canyons, ranches. Found in open or semi-open terrain, often in dry country, avoiding forested areas. Often in farmland, savannah, or prairie in south, dry upland tundra in northern part of range. Unlike the other two phoebes, has no special attachment to vicinity of water.
This soft-voiced flycatcher of the west is like the other two phoebes in its tail-wagging habit; but unlike them, it often lives in very dry country, far from water. It is typical of prairies, badlands, and ranch country, often placing its nest under the eaves of a porch or barn. In open terrain where there are few high perches, Say's Phoebe may watch for insects in the grass by hovering low over the fields.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • fledgling
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages by perching on low shrub or rock and darting out to capture insects. May catch its food in mid-air, or take it from low foliage or from ground. Also often hovers low over fields until prey is spotted, then drops to ground to capture it. Indigestible parts of insects are coughed up as pellets.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3-7. White; some (thought to be the last laid) may have small brown or reddish spots. Incubation is by female only, 12-14 days. Young: Both parents bring food to nestlings. Young leave nest about 14-16 days after hatching. 1-2 broods per year, sometimes 3 in the south.


Young

Both parents bring food to nestlings. Young leave nest about 14-16 days after hatching. 1-2 broods per year, sometimes 3 in the south.

Diet

Almost entirely insects. Often feeds heavily on wild bees, wasps, winged ants. Other insects in diet include beetles, moths, grasshoppers, crickets, and dragonflies. Also eats spiders and millipedes, and occasionally eats berries.


Nesting

Males are thought to arrive on breeding grounds before females. Male sings to defend nesting territory, usually from exposed perch, sometimes in flight-song display. Nest site varies: on rocky ledge or crevices in cliffs or caves, in wells or mine shafts, under bridges or eaves; occasionally in natural tree cavity or hole in bank. May take over old swallow nest. Nest (probably built by female, but details not well known) is a flat open cup made of grass, weeds, moss, spiderwebs, wool, and other materials. Unlike other phoebes, usually uses no mud in nest.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates north relatively early in spring. Occasionally strays to Atlantic Coast (once even to Bermuda), mostly in fall.

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Migration

Migrates north relatively early in spring. Occasionally strays to Atlantic Coast (once even to Bermuda), mostly in fall.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A mellow, whistled pee-ur with a plaintive quality.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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