This Bird’s a Lone Wolf

Likely you all know the adage “Birds of a Feather Flock Together” and when you see robins eating in a field, swallows roosting in a tree or geese in flight, there is no denying it. Enter the Easter Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), who seems to say, “Not me baby! I vant to be alone” using its best Greta Garbo voice.

Rarely do we see a pair of phoebes. Mostly it is a lone bird, perched on a fence or low tree branch with few leaves, studying the air or groundcover below on the hunt for something tasty and I don’t mean greens, berries or seeds. The phoebe’s diet consists primary of insects. Since they are flycatchers, they’re unlikely to come to feeders. They are a part of the Tryannidae family.

It really seems to like the new fence as a perch

I watched my most recent visitor as (s)he sat on the 4-1/2 foot wooden fence. ZOOM…down into the native grasses, which are mixed with pennywort and frogfruit. SNATCH…picked up some critter and return to its same perch. REPEAT.

It also is happy perching on the PVC pole that the Coral Honeysuckle vine crawls up

Prior to the installation of this new fence, the phoebe used to hang out in the front using the flagpole or the small shed as a perch. Last spring I was excited to see it entering and exiting the open eaves of this shed, thinking it was looking for a nesting place. Sad to say that Florida seems to be outside the breeding range, it is a winter holdover here. On the other hand, team member Ellen Sousa has spoken about how her lawn area provides the perfect hunting ground for meals which is likely why she has had breeding pairs nest at her place in the northeast on a regular basis. I’m a little jealous.

Some say the Phoebe has drab colors, but in the sunlight the yellow tone to its breast becomes very apparent

Flying insects make up the majority of the Eastern Phoebe’s diet. Common prey includes wasps, beetles, dragonflies, butterflies and moths, flies, midges, and cicadas; they also eat spiders, ticks, and millipedes, as well as occasional small fruits or seeds. At my place, the beetles and/or spider wasps in the grasses seem to be the main focus for this guy. Although last night he was hawking critters in flight.

It was happier on a branch in the oak when it was hawking, rather than gleaning

California has a similar species, the black phoebe that was spoken about here at Beautiful Wildlife Garden by former team member Chris McLaughlin.

I hope when it was staring at me it wasn’t thinking I would make a good meal

So, to birdscape for this bird, provide a nice medium height fenceline or similar perch, a low-growing meadow-type area and don’t use any pesticides which might kill their food. They want their dinner tartare. You’ll soon hear the familiar peep or fee-bee as it patiently waits to soar down and dine.

© 2012, Loret T. Setters. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. says

    What a sweetie. Surprising that you never see a pair together. Do you only see them in winter? Great photos. I remember you mentioning them last winter, that they had an interest in your shed. Guess I’d better find out if their cousins, the Black Phoebes are in my neck of the woods, So Cal way~
    Kathy Vilim recently posted..A Time to Be Thankful at the Ocean

    • says

      Hi Kathy!

      Seems they move north for summer and back for winter. I see them in early spring….that’s when the one was nosing around in the shed eaves. Could it be that it was thinking about setting up shop there and then mrs bird came along and said….NO, Florida is too dam* hot in the summer, lets check out Pennsylvania!
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Profile of Darkness

  2. says

    I’ve been seeing one of these in my yard regularly for the last few years, and had tentatively determined it was either an eastern phoebe or an eastern wood peewee. I’m guessing now that i’ve seen your photos it was the former.

    Lots of insect hunting, swooping over the lawn and then back to a perch. didn’t see any tail pumping though.
    fern recently posted..Storm Prep in Connecticut

    • says

      When I first saw this bird, I did look up the eastern wood peewee because I thought it was saying “pee wee”. I needed to carefully compare pictures to be sure of what I saw. They are fun to watch, aren’t they? very focused. I’m wondering if it is the same one returning to your place year after year. Seems I only get one each year so logically I would think it was the same one.
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Profile of Darkness

  3. says

    I used to watch these beautiful birds when we lived in Maine. They perched on the young, thin branches of trees and flew out to catch flying insects. Their flights are extraordinary. I would love to see one in my new garden in NY. I have seen one at nearby Zenda Farm preserve.

    • says

      It was interesting to watch the one in my yard. When the sun was shining it would swoop from the fence to the ground. Just before dusk it seemed to switch to the thin branches of the oak tree and like you said, flew out to catch them in the air. Hopefully they were eating mosquitoes on those air meals.

      If they were close, I hope they come by you soon!
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Profile of Darkness

  4. Cindy says

    You have my Phoebe :-) Send him back for the Spring.. Super photos.. I rarely see mine, just hear them..Must be your magnetic personality ;-)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] find it in the book because in my mind a meadowlark was a little bird, about the size of an eastern phoebe.  Of course, I am OUT of my mind, just as I was far out on this identification.  I completely [...]

  2. [...] 137. This Bird’s a Lone Wolf: Likely you all know the adage “Birds of a Feather Flock Together” and when you see robins eating in a field, swallows roosting in a tree or geese in flight, there is no denying it. Enter the Easter Phoebe, who seems to say, “Not me baby! I vant to be alone” ~Loret T. Setters [...]

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