Illustration of black phoebe

Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt


Map: Black phoebe range

A distinctive black-and-white phoebe of the southwest, the black phoebe is almost always found near water. Polytypic (5 ssp.). Length 4.5" (11 cm).

Identification Black head, upperparts, breast; contrasting white belly, undertail coverts. Juvenile: plumage briefly held; similar to adult’s, but browner, with 2 cinnamon wing bars, cinnamon tips to the feathers on the upperparts.

Geographic Variation North American semiatra (south to western Mexico) has duller and duskier head; birds south of Isthmus of Panama have extensive white in wings.

Similar Species Distinctive. Has hybridized with the eastern phoebe (Colorado); offspring appear intermediate.

Voice Call: includes a loud tseew and a sharp tsip, similar to the eastern phoebe’s but sounding more plaintive and whistled. Song: thin whistled song consists of 2 different 2-syllable phrases: a rising sa-wee followed by a falling sa-sew; usually strung together one after the other.

Status and Distribution Uncommon to common. Breeding: woodlands, parks, suburbs; almost always near water. Migration: resident over much of range. Breeders return to Colorado late March–mid-April; depart early September. Fall migrants detected on Farallon Islands (California) early September–late November Vagrant: casually appears north and east to northern Oregon, Washington, Idaho, northern and eastern Utah, northern Arizona, central Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Accidental to Florida, southwestern British Columbia, and south-central Alaska.

Population Increasing, with range slowly spreading north.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

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