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Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe by Pam Huntley, as heard on

The Black Phoebe is a year-round resident and is often seen on a fence post or low branch. From there, it sallies up to snatch an insect from the air and returns to the same perch. This seven-inch flycatcher is all black except for its white belly and thin white lines down the outside of its tail. It has a peaked forehead and thin, flattened bill.

Juveniles are dark-brown underneath and have cinnamon wing bars. The species characteristically pumps or dips of their tail while perched. Black Phoebes are seldom seen far from water. This could be a creek, river, marshy pond or irrigation ditch.

From their low perch, they dart out with soft and silent flight then, with an audible click of the bill, snap up a wild bee, ant, wasp, beetle, fly or moth. They feed almost exclusively on insects but have been seen to snatch a small fish now and then. They spit up pellets containing the indigestible parts of insects.

In courtship, the male performs a fluttering flight, singing and calling, and slowly descends. Black Phoebes make a cup nest under an eave, cave, or bridge. This semi-circular nest is strongly attached to the surface and is made with mud, plants and hair. The female lays four white eggs and incubates them for a little over two weeks. Both parents feed the young. They usually have two broods in a season and, if successful, will use the nest again next year.

First published MCAS The Whistling Swan May 2010
Black Phoebe photo Lee Karney, USFWS