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Say's phoebe
Sayornis saya 6.jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Genus:
Sayornis
Species:
saya
Sayornis saya map.svg

Say's phoebe (Sayornis saya) is a passerine bird in the tyrant flycatcher family. A common bird in the western United States, it prefers dry, desolate areas. This bird was named for Thomas Say, the American naturalist.

Taxonomy

Say's phoebe was formally described in 1825 by the French naturalist Charles Lucien Bonaparte from a specimen collected near Pueblo, Colorado. He coined the binomial name Muscicapa saya where the specific epithet was chosen to honour the naturalist Thomas Say. The species is now placed in the genus Sayornis that was introduced by Bonaparte in 1854.

Two subspecies are recognised:

  • S. s. saya (Bonaparte, 1825) – Alaska, west Canada, west USA and south Mexico
  • S. s. quiescens Grinnell, 1926 – Baja California (northwest Mexico)

Description

The adult Say's phoebe is a barrel-chested bird with a squared-off head. It is gray-brown above with a black tail and buffy cinnamon below, becoming more orange around the vent. The tail is long and the primaries end just past the rump on resting birds. The wings seem pale in flight and resemble a female mountain bluebird. The juvenile is similar to adult, but has buffy orange to whitish wingbars and a yellow gape. Adult birds are 7.5 in (19 cm) long. They have a 13 in (33 cm) wingspan and they weigh 0.75 oz (21 g).

Distribution and habitat

They are found year-round from western Colorado, southwest to southern California, east to the western panhandle of Texas and south through western Mexico. They breed from Alaska south through western and south central Canada, south through North Dakota, the midwest and to New Mexico and westward. They winter in the desert southwest to southern Texas and south through Mexico to northern Central America. During migration these birds can be found thousands of miles out of range. There are regular fall reports in New England, U.S and Nova Scotia, Canada.

These birds prefer dry, desolate, arid landscapes. They can be found on farmland, savanna and open woodlands, usually near water. They tend to be early migrants to the western U.S.

Say'sPhoebe-30APR2017
Say's Phoebe in Cochise County, Arizona

Behaviour and ecology

This bird is similar to the eastern phoebe. It sallies from a perch to catch insects in mid-air. It also hovers American kestrel-like and dips its tail while perched. The Say's phoebe also likes to feed just above the water's surface. They eat insects almost exclusively, but have been known to eat berries.

Say's phoebes nest in the typical phoebe fashion. They attach their nests under bridges, canyon walls, wells and abandoned mine shafts. The nest is made by the female and is cup-shaped. It is made of grass, forbs, moss and plant fibers lined with hair and other fine materials. She lays three to seven, but usually four or five, white, mostly unmarked, eggs. Some have red spots. The eggs are roughly 0.8 in (20 mm).

  • Ted Floyd. Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America. 2008
  • Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, Darryl Wheye. The Birder's Handbook. 1988
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