Sayornis phoebe, Length: 7"
The drab-looking Eastern Phoebe is considered by many birders to be a sign of spring's arrival. Calling out its name and flicking its tail up and down, this medium-sized flycatcher returns in spring as soon as insects are active. Phoebes are dark headed and pale bellied. Juvenile birds can show yellow bellies.
Eastern Phoebes call out FEE-bee! or FEE-bree! They also utter a soft, sweet-sounding chip note.
Phoebes can be confused with the smaller Eastern Wood-Pewee, but phoebes wag their tails and pewees do not. Pewees always show obvious white wing bars. You have to look really hard to see the phoebe's wing bars.
Eastern Phoebes prefer wooded habitat near water. They build mud nests under overhanging rocks, under bridges, and in barns and can be reliably found in these settings during warm months.
The first North American ornithologist to band birds, John James Audubon tied a small silver thread around the legs of nestling Eastern Phoebes.