Family: (Tyrannidae) Tyrant Flycatchers
Preferred Habitat: Woodlands, often near water. May be found in urban areas.
Seasonal Occurrence: Abundant November through March.
Profile by Glenn Olsen: We have fourteen species of flycatchers that one can reasonably expect to see at some time during the year within the six counties of the Upper Texas Coast. With a little extra searching one can usually find two other species for a total of sixteen possible during the year. The Eastern Phoebe is our most commonly occurring flycatcher during the winter months. Early arrivals may show up in late September to early October.
The principal breeding range is from Canada south into the eastern and central half of the United States including north central Texas but excluding the southeastern states. The Eastern Phoebe builds a nest of mud, green moss, and fine grass. The nest is shaped much like your half cupped hand and one edge of the nest is attached to a rock or cliff beneath an overhang in a natural setting. The nest may also be attached to manmade structures such as a bridge, culvert, or ledge of a building.
The Eastern Phoebe is a plain but attractive bird roughly the size of a Purple Martin. Adult birds have dusky gray or grayish-brown upper parts with the crown, face, and tail contrastingly darker, sometimes appearing almost black. The under parts are off-white with pale dusky gray markings on the sides of the breast. Some wintering birds show a faint yellow to yellow-green wash on the belly and vent. Various sources describe these birds as juvenile, immature, fresh fall birds, or simply winter plumage (basic) adults.
The habitat in which you will find Eastern Phoebe is deciduous or mixed open woodlands. Mature and dense forested areas are less desirable. One can frequently find Eastern Phoebes in the general area of small ponds, ditches, wet open woodlands, or woodland edges. Here they often perch in a rather erect posture, frequently 3 to 15 feet off the ground and will fly out from the perch to capture insects (referred to as sallying or fly catching). They also consume small berries and fruit of various plants. While perched, Phoebes will often pump or wag their tail.
While out looking for the Eastern Phoebe, be on the alert for our second most common wintering flycatcher, the Vermilion Flycatcher. Good places to observe these birds include Bear Creek Park and Brazos Bend State Park.