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Eastern Phoebe

Sayornis phoebe ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TYRANNIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

One of our most familiar eastern flycatchers, the Eastern Phoebe’s raspy “phoebe” call is a frequent sound around yards and farms in spring and summer. These brown-and-white songbirds sit upright and wag their tails from prominent, low perches. They typically place their mud-and-grass nests in protected nooks on bridges, barns, and houses, which adds to the species’ familiarity to humans. Hardy birds, Eastern Phoebes winter farther north than most other flycatchers and are one of the earliest returning migrants in spring.

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Songs

Males sing a raspy, two-parted song that gives them their name: "fee-bee.” It lasts about half a second. They also sing a variant of this song with a stutter or two between the two syllables; this is more often heard during or after aggressive interactions.

Calls

Both sexes also use a soft chip note to communicate. Males hovering at a possible nest site to show it to a female also give a nasal chattering call.

Other Sounds

Eastern Phoebes sometimes snap their bill mandibles together to make a loud sound at an intruder, predator, or, sometimes, a bird bander.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Find This Bird

The Eastern Phoebe’s eponymous song is one of the first indications that spring is returning. It’s also a great way to find phoebes as they go about their business in quiet wooded neighborhoods. Just don’t mistake the Black-capped Chickadee’s sweet, whistled “fee-bee” call; the phoebe’s is much quicker and raspier. During early summer, a great way to find phoebes is to quietly explore around old buildings and bridges. Look carefully under eaves and overhangs and you may see a nest.

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If you have a wooded yard, Eastern Phoebes may come to visit, and they may stay to nest if you have quiet outbuildings that could serve as nest sites. Phoebes are flycatchers, so they’re unlikely to come to feeders.