Sunday, February 22, 2009

Say's Phoebe--Sayornis saya

Say's Phoebe on a fence post at Upper Newport Bay by the Muth Interpretive Center.

Say's Phoebe has not been studied as much as other phoebes, but there is still some good information available. The Say's Phoebe is a flycatcher with a black tail and brown-gray back and head. It is colorful only due to the cinnamon-colored belly and undertail coverts. Its bill, feet, and legs are black. Male and female have the same plumage and size. The Say's Phoebe is a mid-sized flycatcher. It's similar in behavior to the Black Phoebe--which we also have in Orange County. The Say's Phoebe is much less abundant than the almost ubiquitous Black Phoebe, but it can be seen in open areas like Upper Newport Bay on both sides of the bay, Mason Regional Park , and Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve .

Say's Phoebe on the lookout for insects near the Muth Interpretive Center at Upper Newport Bay.

Say's Phoebe got its name from Thomas Say, a pharmacist turned naturalist, who lived in the early 1800s. He identified more new species than any one else had at that point. Notice that the species name is Sayornis saya and that the Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) is also from the same family. The family name is named after Say as well, so this little phoebe is doubly named after the naturalist Thomas Say. That is fitting since it was Say who first described Say's Phoebe. He also was the first to describe the Orange-crowned Warbler, the Lesser Goldfinch, the Band-tailed Pigeon, the Western Kingbird, and the Lazuli Bunting among others. Amazingly, this was not his main field. He was very into insects. In fact, he is sometimes called the American father of entomology.

Say's Phoebe near the Muth Interpretive Center at Upper Newport Bay.

The Say's Phoebe like all flycatchers eats mainly insects. Often bees and wasps. It will catch insects on the wing, fly down onto the ground to catch them, or hover and glean them off plants and trees. It is a very active flycatcher. I found it very aware of people walking by it. It would fly on to the next post or branch. But if I stood still, it would come closer and take a look. Then go on about its business.

Say's Phoebe near the Muth Interpretive Center at Upper Newport Bay.

Although its near relatives the Black Phoebe and the Eastern Phoebe build mud nests or include mud in their nests, the Say's Phoebe builds its nest of grass and other plant material. No mud. It usually builds its nest inside, out of the rain. Could be a cave, a building, but usually with a roof over its head.

Say's Phoebe near the Muth Interpretive Center at Upper Newport Bay.

Desert, scrubby, rocky bare land, bare wetlands. The Say's Phoebe like land that has lots of dirt and a few plants. Perhaps it's easier to find terrestrial insects that way. I don't know. But this is no jungle bird. It can be found from as far south as southern Mexico and as far North as The Northern part of Alaska, even nesting on the Alaskan Pipeline according to All About Birds. Its range extends east to the the mid west.

Say's Phoebe near the
Muth Interpretive Center at Upper Newport Bay.

The Say's Phoebe is sometimes confused with the female Vermilion Flycatcher. The female Say's Phoebe is more cinnamon or rusty than the Vermilion which is more pinkish. The Vermilion Flycatcher also has streaks on its white chest. The Say's Phoebe has a grayish chest with no streaks.

Say's Phoebe from OC Birder Girl on Vimeo.

And below, from an expert videographer and birder, Don DesJardin:

Say's Phoebe from Don DesJardin on Vimeo.
Compare the Say's Phoebe to the Black Phoebe in my video below:

When you are out birding in Orange County and see a flycatcher, take a good look. You just may be looking at a Say's Phoebe.

Say's Phoebe at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

OC Birder Girl Links

Fairly common here all year except in summer.

Say's Phoebe at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

External Links and Resources

Detailed article from Cornell Ornithology Lab about Say's Phoebe.

BirdWeb: Say's Phoebe

Good article on the Say's Phoebe by the Seattle Audubon Society.

Birds of North America Online Courtesy Preview of Say's Phoebe

Good article about the Say's Phoebe by Cornell Lab's Birds of North America.

Carolina Nature: Rare Sighting of a Say's Phoebe in North Carolina

Good photographs. Interesting habitat where the Say's Phoebe was sighted out of its range.

Duke University: Say's Phoebe

Good photos and information from an Eastern perspective.

Internet Bird Collection: Say's Phoebe

Videos of Say's Phoebes.

IV Birds: Say's Phoebe

From Imperial Valley College. A short blurb about Say's Phoebes in the Imperial Valley.

Living the Scientific Life: Say's Phoebe

Great text and photos discussing the Say's Phoebe and identification.

Montana Field Guide: Say's Phoebe

Information on Say's Phoebe.

Comprehensive article on the Say's Phoebe.

The River Basin Center in Georgia: Say's Phoebe

Short article with pictures about Say's Phoebe from the University of Georgia's River Basin Center in Georgia where Say's Phoebe is a rarity unlike Orange County California where we see it often.

San Diego Natural History Museum: Say's Phoebe

Long and helpful article about the Say's Phoebe.

South Dakota Birds: Say's Phoebe

Nice photo and helpful text.

Article about Thomas Say who first observed the Say's Phoebe and described it, and after whom the Say's Phoebe is named.

USGS: Say's Phoebe

Short article on Say's Phoebe.

Utah Birds: Say's Phoebe Photographs

Good photos of Say's Phoebes.

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