Living Bird Magazine
Say's PhoebeSayornis saya
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Tyrannidae
Like other phoebes, the Say’s Phoebe is seemingly undaunted by people and often nests on buildings. These open-country birds have cinnamon-washed underparts and a rather gentle expression. They sally from low perches to snatch insects in midair or pounce on them on the ground. Say’s Phoebes often pump their tails while perched on a wire, fence post, or low bush. They breed farther north than any other flycatcher and are seemingly limited only by the lack of nest sites.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Say’s Phoebes really blend into their desert surroundings despite their cinnamon-washed bellies. They can be quite vocal at times which helps locate them, but at other times they are quiet and can easily go undetected. Listen for a clear, slurred whistle and a burry, hiccupping note. Keep your eyes low to the ground and watch for quick movements from low shrubs as they sally out to grab an insect or two. Look for them perched on top of low shrubs or fence posts. During the breeding season, they may be found around buildings; you may even be able to spot a nest under an eave.
- Mosquero Llanero (Spanish)
- Moucherolle à ventre roux (French)
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 NestWatch pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size for a Say's Phoebe on All About Birdhouses.
Create bird friendly habitat in your yard by planting native shrubs. Creating habitat in your yard can provide foraging opportunities for the Say’s Phoebe. Learn more about creating habitat at Habitat Network.
Say’s Phoebes don’t come to feeders, but they may use your backyard as a place to catch insects or even build a nest under the eaves of your house or other structure in your yard. A well-placed shelf attached to a building may attract a pair. Learn more about where to place a nesting shelf and how to build one at NestWatch
- Cool Facts
- Charles Bonaparte, a nephew of Napoleon, named the Say’s Phoebe after American naturalist Thomas Say, the first scientist to encounter the bird, at a site near Cañon City, Colorado, in 1819. During the same expedition, Say also collected 10 additional bird species. Despite finding several new bird species in his career, Say is perhaps better known as the “father of American entomology.”
- Say’s Phoebes have been in the U.S. for a long time. Paleontologists discovered Say’s Phoebe fossils in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas dating back to about 400,000 years ago (the late Pleistocene).
- The Say's Phoebe breeds farther north than any other flycatcher and is seemingly limited only by the lack of nest sites. Its breeding range extends from central Mexico all the way to the arctic tundra. It may be following the Alaska pipeline even farther north, nesting on the pipeline itself.
- When a Say’s Phoebe finds a good nesting site, it often uses the nest year after year. In central Kansas a Say’s Phoebe reused the same nest 5 years in a row.
- Say’s Phoebes will nest just about anywhere: in mailboxes, on machinery, and even in old nests built by other species. Researchers reported them using nests built by Black and Eastern phoebes, Cliff, Bank, and Barn swallows, and American Robins.