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Bryan Brillhart Photography Presents Dig Imperial Beach "Bird of the Week", the “Black Phoebe"

Apr 14, 2016 02:11PM ● By Paul Spear

Bryan Brillhart of Bryan Brillhart Photography presents us with the “Bird of the Week”. The column will provide a picture of a bird(s) locally photographed and we will have background on the bird. This week’s bird is the ““Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)”.

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Bryan Brillhart Photography

Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans),. A passerine bird (feet specialized for grasping branches and similar structures, with the first toe facing backward) in the Tyrant-flycatcher family. The sharp whistled call of the Black Phoebe is a typical sound 

 along creeks and ponds in the southwest. The birder who explores such areas is likely to see the bird perched low over the water, slowly wagging its tail, then darting out in rapid flight to snap up an insect just above the water's surface. Related to the familiar Eastern Phoebe of eastern North America, this species has a much wider range, living along streams from California to Argentina. It occurs year-round throughout most of its range and migrates less than the other birds in its genus, though its northern populations are partially migratory. Six subspecies are commonly recognized, although two are occasionally combined as a separate species, the white-winged phoebe.

Black phoebe numbers are apparently stable, and possibly increasing in some areas where artificial ponds have added to nesting habitats. Habitats are shady streams, walled canyons, farmyards, and towns near water. Habitat occurs in a variety of semi-open habitats, but they are rarely found away the from the vicinity of water, which may be natural streams or ponds, or irrigation ditches or even water troughs. Water ensures the availability of mud for nests.

 Black phoebes forage by watching from a perch and darting out to catch insects, often just above the water. They catch insects in mid-air, or may hover while picking them from foliage, or sometimes from the water's surface. They may also take insects from the ground, especially in cool weather. Indigestible parts of insects are coughed up as pellets. Males and females maintain separate feeding territories in winter. Almost entirely insects, they feed on a wide variety of insects including beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, wild bees, wasps, flies, moths, and caterpillars. They occasionally eat small fish.

In courtship, males perform a song-flight display, fluttering in the air with rapidly repeated calls, then descending slowly. Mud nests are usually plastered to a sheltered spot such as cliff face, bridge support, culvert, or under the eaves of a building. Nests are occasionally built in a well a few feet below the ground level, often returning to same nesting site year after year. Nests (probably built by female) are an open cup, semi-circular if attached to vertical wall, and circular if placed on a flat beam. Nests are made of mud mixed with grass and weeds, and are lined with soft materials such as plant fibers, rootlets, or hair.

After mating, females lay 4, sometimes 3-6, white eggs. Some eggs may have reddish-brown dots. Incubation is by females only in 15-17 days. Young are fed by both parents, and may leave the nest 2-3 weeks after hatching. There are usually 2 broods per year, rarely 3.

This year round bird can be easily found along the many trails in our own Tijuana Estuary capturing insects. Look for this species and the many other beautiful birds that call Imperial Beach their home. Until next week, good birding!


Bryan Brillhart


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