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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Nov 10, 2010

Say's Phoebe: A fly catcher

On the day that I spotted this flycatcher near the end of September, I had already decided sadly that migration had come to an end for this year.  It didn't help that the weather was all cloud and damp, and so my mood was as low as the clouds.  I was at the park near my work, staring at the pond, which was completely devoid of all but the fish in the water.  With no hope left of sighting waterfowl or any other bird species besides local finches and sparrows, I started walking slowly to work after only a couple of minutes, which meant I had to walk part way around the pond.

That's when I saw a bird dive into some bushes. Naturally, knowing I had the time, I stopped and waited to see if it would fly out and reveal itself.  Well it didn't, not at first.  It wasn't long before I made up my mind that I had likely just seen one of the finches that inhabit those bushes on a regular basis anyway.  With that thought in mind and because of my mood, I started walking abruptly right past the same bushes, only to flush the bird out unintentionally.

So imagine my surprise when I realized, once it was in flight, that this was not a finch at all because it was quite simply much larger in size.   In fact, it quickly dawned on me that this was a bird I had never seen before, and my gloomy mood was instantly replaced by delight.  So I stood quite still hoping against hope that I hadn't scared the bird away permanently, but I need not have worried.  Say's Phoebe, as if sensing my lighter mood, almost immediately started flying all over the pond and around me, going so far as to pose often, with his little crest raised and dark tail flashing, or bobbing up and down.  Several times he even perched within a few feet of me, which was just awesome and allowed me to collect some decent photos.

By some miracle there was not another soul around.  There was no one walking their dog or jogging, no kids going to school or people walking to work from the nearby apartment buildings.  There was certainly nothing to startle the bird into making a permanent exit.  So I was able to take advantage of the moment to take as many pictures as I wanted and simply enjoy watching him, while soaking up details about his behavior, color and markings that I might otherwise have missed.  Details such as the fact that Say's Phoebe's has the ability to hover in midair, much like a hawk above prey and the fact that he seemed to be as curious about me as I was about him.

After a while he would disappear from view for a minute or two until I would decide that he had gone and get set to leave, only to have him reappear right in front of me. This happened several times in fact and was quite amusing.  Perhaps this was the bird's version of playing peek a boo.  If nothing else the bird's behavior was temping me to stay because it was a peaceful and wonderful moment in time, but eventually I did have to leave for work. 

Since then, I discovered that Say's Phoebe belongs to the passerine family of birds, which means he is roughly the size of a Robin, or perhaps slightly smaller.  Say's Phoebe hunt insects, mainly grasshoppers, to sustain himself but will also eat certain berries.  As you can see from my pictures, this beautiful bird has a grayish brown head and back, yellow orange belly and gray streaked chest.  Because of the darker brown coloring around the eyes, Say's Phoebe appears to be wearing a mask.  His tail is black and he has dark shoulder markings beneath his wings much like a Red-Tailed Hawk, but accented with a lighter color as you can clearly see in one of the pictures above.  This particular bird had cinnamon colored edging to the feathers of his wings, indicating that he is still a juvenile.

Say's Phoebe was likely on his way to Southern Mexico for the winter and stopped at the pond in search of food.  His typical habitat in summer, is dry open or semi open areas all across western North America and Alaska, including human developments such as towns.  You will see Say's Phoebe darting out from a bush to catch insects midair, hovering over a patch in a farmers field or perched on rocks, fences, and utility wires. 

If you wish to learn more about this delightful bird just follow these links:

Say's Phoebe has been known to nest in buildings, so if you wish to attract this bird to your property and want to learn how to construct a bird house for the species just follow this link.



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