Eastern Phoebe Species Dossier

by Carl Strang

The eastern phoebe is the earliest tyrant flycatcher to appear in our area, thanks to its overwintering in the southern U.S. rather than the tropics. It won’t be long now, though the snow must go away first.

Phoebe, Eastern

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

(Initial paragraph establishing this dossier in the mid-1980’s) Phoebe locations have included the Bird Sanctuary near Culver, Indiana, along streams around Lafayette, and at Reineman Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. Usually nests have been near water (streams). The nest, built with much mud, rests on a small shelf against a wall under an overhang (e.g. on cliff, bridge or against building). They catch insects with normal flycatching foraging behavior, sallying from perches into openings. Song “fee-bee” or “fee-beehee” (last 2 syllables sounding like a hiccup), with equal accent on the 2 syllables.

21OC89. A phoebe foraged from low perches in forest, West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve (perches no more than 8 feet up).

8MR92. A phoebe called near Hartz Lake in Indiana.

6-7AP96. Phoebes are passing through in woodlands, despite the late spring: 2 together at Elsen’s Hill on a slope overlooking the West Branch of the DuPage River on the 6th, one at Fabyan Park, Kane County, on the 7th.

16OC96. Phoebe singing high in tree at Willowbrook.

1AP99. First phoebe of the year, Willowbrook.

26MR00. A phoebe foraged high in trees near the river at West DuPage Woods, flycatching a good 30 feet up.

12AP00. A migrant in the savanna at Willowbrook.

Phoebe fledglings

Phoebe fledglings

27AU00. Migrants were common today in the Natural Area at Illinois Beach State Park.

3AP02. Willowbrook. Soil blackened by the prairie burn proved attractive to the early migrant eastern phoebes, which took advantage of sun-warmed activity by insects to collect food in the prairie.

21MR04. Willowbrook. Two phoebes in the prairie.

3NO04. Willowbrook. A phoebe still present on the preserve.

MY05. Willowbrook. For the first time, nesting was confirmed on the preserve for eastern phoebes. The flycatchers built their nest in the beams beneath the bridge over Glen Crest Creek, and 4 large nestlings still were present on May 31. (They fledged by mid-June).

13AP09. Phoebes at least in migration commonly produce a loud sharp call note, “tsewp!”

5OC10. Mayslake. Singing: white-crowned sparrow, phoebe, cardinal, song sparrow.

Phoebe incubating a nest on the former friary building at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Phoebes have taken advantage of bridges and other human structures to provide foundations for their nests of mud and vegetation.

Phoebe incubating a nest on the former friary building at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Phoebes have taken advantage of bridges and other human structures to provide foundations for their nests of mud and vegetation.

6AP11. Mayslake. Phoebe calling continuously from the tip of a tree close to where they nested last year at the now removed friary. Trying to connect with mate before searching for a new spot? (The previous 2 years they had nested on the friary building. Two years ago they had 2 broods, produced only a cowbird each time).

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