Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Black Phoebe--Sayornis nigricans

Black Phoebe with a catch outside the Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Central Park.

I really like Black Phoebes. In fact, the Black Phoebe may just be my favorite species. Every home seems to have one perched nearby in the O.C. or even in Southern California. When my great-aunt was alive, she was always shooing a Black Phoebe off the patio furniture in the backyard. If she didn't come out and chase him, he would come closer and actually peek in the window. He seemed to enjoy playing tag with my elderly Aunt.

Resting after a hearty meal. Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Central Park.
Orange County is said to have the largest population of Black Phoebes of any county in the United States. (I have lost the article citation, but I read it in the newspaper.) These cute little tyrant flycatchers are black above and white below. It sits on a tree, post, fence, table, gas meter, or any observation post available. It watches closely, then flies out to grab an insect flying by, and returns to its post to eat. Black Phoebes love to fly catch over large expanses of grass, near water, or from any handy post. In addition to insects, they occasionally catch caterpillars, and small fish. Really. Black Phoebes build mud nests usually under eaves or bridges. They are highly adaptable to our urban environment.

Black Phoebe on a backyard fence.
Black Phoebes are Orange County Natives and breed here.   In fact, they breed all along the West Coast from Oregon on down through Baja California and into Central and South America. In winter, it flies south into California and Central and South America.

Black Phoebe at Huntington Central Park .

You will see Black Phoebes on any perch available perch. A resin table or chair, a fence, a patio rail, a post, a bush or tree, or a fallen branch on the ground. They especially like places near water, but can be found anywhere.


Young Black Phoebe Sunning itself.

A similar species in Orange County is the Say's Phoebe. Say's Phoebes act in a very similar manner, but has a gray head and back and a light, rust-colored belly and under-tail coverts. It is much less common and is said to breed inland. I have seen Say's Phoebes frequently at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in the winter and also at Mason Regional Park in the winter. The movements may say "Black Phoebe," but once you look at it, you'll know it's not a Black Phoebe.

Compare with the Say's Phoebe below filmed by videographer and birder Don DesJardin:

By the Central Park Library in Huntington Central Park.

I like Black Phoebes. I have had one or two in my patio or yard for the the last 20 plus years both in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.  They make a place seem like home.   They make me smile.

Time to stretch in Huntington Central Park.

I hope have you enjoyed reading about and seeing pictures and videos of this common, but likable resident of Orange County. Look outside. There may be a Black Phoebe near you! Have fun birding in Orange County!

Black Phoebe finds a flycatching perch at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.

If you want to know how to say "phoebe," click Merriam Webster pronunciation here.

El Dorado Nature Center in nearby Long Beach.
OC Birder Girl Links
A great place to see Black Phoebes. They are abundant in Central Park.

You can find Black Phoebes just about anywhere in Orange County.

A similar species in the same family as the Black Phoebe.

Black Phoebe External Links and Resources:
Great site with bird videos. This one is a Black Phoebe.
This is a great article on Black Phoebes by the well-know ornithology lab at
Cornell University in New York. Includes picture, map, sounds, and songs.

The Internet Bird Collection: Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe videos at the Internet Bird Collection. The IBC is a great
source for birders. The videos are almost always high quality, and the
they are numerous.
Good source of information
Very good photographs.
Check out these amazing photographs by E.J. Peiker--please respect his copyright. There are pictures of a Black Phoebe eating what looks like a fish.

BRENDA J. ANDREWS, MARIE SULLIVAN, J. DAVID HOERATH (Wilson Bulletin: Vol. 108, No. 2, April-June, 1996)

At El Dorado Nature Center in Long Beach. From my recent walk at the Nature Center.

Do you have a question about birding, feeding wild birds, or birds in Orange County? Go to Ask the OC Birder Girl and ask your question.

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Orange County Birder Girl said...

To my Santa Ana reader, Unfortunately, I cannot reply via email, but please see my post "Ask the OC Birder Girl." You can see the link by paging up on this post or at the top of the right hand column. I have included some links to organizations in that post that may be of help.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great article on my favorite bird! Having called this bird the "Snipper Bird" for so long, I am so happy to find out its real name. It is fun to watch as it patrols my back yard, snipping bugs out of the air with a satisfying sound. I know just what you mean when you say that the Black Phoebe makes you smile.