Black Phoebe

(Sayornis nigricans)

The Black Phoebe belongs to the tyrant flycatcher family, genus Sayornis. With over 400 known species, this group is the largest family of birds on earth. The habitat they live in may be varied however they usually are found near water, a location which ensures the availability of mud for their nests. Birds are monogamous with pairs remaining together as long as 5 years. They are commonly seen on a perch relatively low to the ground waiting to dart out and capture their insect prey in mid-air. The Black Phoebe's song consists of two alternating phrases sung by both sexes but more commonly by the male.

Mud nest built by Black Phoebe

Mud nest built by Black Phoebe.

Juvenile birds have browner plumage, cinnamon-brown feather tips on their body, and brown wing-bars. Both males and females have identical coloration that does not vary seasonally.

Length: 6.3 inches.

Weight: 0.5 to 0.8 oz.

Lifespan: The oldest Black Phoebe on record was at least 8 years old & found in California.

Diet consists mostly of insects and other arthropods it catches on the wing. Sometimes it will capture small fish and insects from the water's surface. Rarely it will eat small berries. Usually feeds during the day but occasionally will hunt insects attracted to lighting at night. Birds consume insects whole but will cough up indigestible parts as pellets. In winter males and females maintain separate feeding territories.
Resident or short-distance migrant. Some birds move down from higher elevations when the breeding season has passed.

Nest is likely built by the female and composed of mud mixed with grass and weeds. It is lined with plant fibers, rootlets, hair, or other soft materials. Constructed as an open cup, semi-circular if attached to a vertical wall, or circular if placed on flat beam. Birds often reuse the same site or same nest each year.

Black Phoebe pairs will aggressively defend their territories from other birds of their own species and maintain several hundred feet between nest sites.

Clutch size: 1 to 6 white, glossy eggs (sometimes eggs have reddish-brown spots around the large end, these eggs are thought to be the last laid). Has 1 to 3 broods per year.

Incubation: 15 to 18 days by the female only. Chicks hatch with closed eyes and are lightly covered with gray down. Both parents help feed the chicks.

Fledging: 18 to 21 days.


  1. "Black Phoebe, Life History". All about birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved October, 2016.
  2. "Black Phoebe". Audubon Guide to North American Birds. Retrieved October, 2016.
  3. "Black Phoebe". Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved October, 2016.