At a Glance

The sharp whistled call of the Black Phoebe is a typical sound along creeks and ponds in the southwest. The birder who explores such areas is likely to see the bird perched low over the water, slowly wagging its tail, then darting out in rapid flight to snap up an insect just above the water's surface. Related to the familiar Eastern Phoebe of eastern North America, this species has a much wider range, living along streams from California to Argentina.
Perching Birds, Tyrant Flycatchers
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
California, Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas
Direct Flight, Hovering

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Mostly a permanent resident, but departs in fall from highest elevations and from northern edge of range in southwest.


6-7" (15-18 cm). Mostly dark charcoal gray, blacker on head, with white belly. Note slim shape, upright posture. Often dips tail down and then up while perched. Juveniles in summer have rusty edges on wing and back feathers.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Song is a thin, buzzy pi-tsee, usually repeated. Call is a sharp, down-slurred chip.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Hi, Whistle


Shady streams, walled canyons, farmyards, towns; near water. Occurs in a variety of semi-open habitats. Rarely found away from vicinity of water, which may be natural streams or ponds, or irrigation ditches or even water troughs; water ensures the availability of mud for nests.



4, sometimes 3-6. White; some (thought to be the last laid) may have reddish-brown dots. Incubation is by female only, 15-17 days.


Fed by both parents. May leave nest 2-3 weeks after hatching. Usually 2 broods per year, rarely 3.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by watching from a perch and darting out to catch insects, often just above water. Catches insects in mid-air, or may hover while picking them from foliage or sometimes from water's surface. May also take insects from the ground, especially in cool weather. Indigestible parts of insects are coughed up as pellets. Male and female maintain separate feeding territories in winter.


Almost entirely insects. Feeds on a wide variety of insects including beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, wild bees, wasps, flies, moths, caterpillars. Occasionally eats small fish.


In courtship, male performs song-flight display, fluttering in the air with rapidly repeated calls, then descending slowly. Nest: Mud nests are usually plastered to sheltered spot such as cliff face, bridge support, culvert, or under eaves of building. Occasionally in well a few feet below ground level. Often returns to same nesting site year after year. Nest (probably built by female) is an open cup, semi-circular if attached to vertical wall, circular if placed on flat beam. Nest is made of mud mixed with grass and weeds, lined with soft materials such as plant fibers, rootlets, hair.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Numbers apparently stable, possibly increasing in some areas where artificial ponds have added to nesting habitat.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Black Phoebe. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Black Phoebe

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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