Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) - local seasonal appearance

Based on 117 observations in Seymour township, Northumberland county, southeast Ontario, 1998-2013.

The eastern phoebe is a common flycatcher, more often heard than seen for much of the year. For this reason, the bird is likely to be under-reported here in any periods (nesting, say, or moulting) in which it sings less than in the spring mating season. Prior to its arrival, the hardy black-capped chickadee may imitate the phoebe's distinctive call, as early as 26 February (2004). The "fee-bee" song is heard in late winter, as small winter flocks break up and the male chickadees stake out their breeding territories (Stokes, 1979, pp.160-173).

The phoebe is recorded, 1999-2013, between 02 April and 12 September. However, more than 90% of the reports are in the three months April, May and June, tailing off rapidly into the fall. Our first report was in Ferris park, 04 October 1998, a late date not replicated subsequently, though it is plausible, given the reports from Presqu'ile (see below). An early spring migrant, the phoebe may be found while there is still ice in the locks on the Trent canal. It is also found to the south, e.g., at Goodrich-Loomis conservation area and Presqu'ile park.

View the complete 15-year (1999-2013) monthly data summary (443-kb pdf file).

At Presqu'ile provincial park, roughly 40 km to the south, the phoebe is a common migrant and summer visitor from late March to late October. It is the hardiest local flycatcher, and over 100 migrants were reported on one exceptional, late date, 08 October 1990 (LaForest, 1993, p.239). In Peterborough county, to the northwest, the phoebe is generally noted between 4 March and 3 October, with an exceptional late date of 31 October (Sadler, 1983, p.108).

The phoebe is well adapted to live on southern Ontario farms and prey on the abundant summer insects there (Cadman et al., 1987, pp.264-265). Thus it is widespread across the region. It is the first flycatcher to return in spring. In the revised Bird Breeding Atlas (Cadman et al., 2007, pp.352-353) note that one gap in its range is the Algonquin park region, which is comparatively lacking in buildings and bridges suited to its nesting requirements.


Cadman,MD, Eagles,PFJ and Helleiner,FM (1987) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario. Federation of Ontario Naturalists and Long Point Bird Observatory, published by University of Waterloo Press, 617pp.

Cadman,MD, Sutherland,DA, Beck,GG, Lepage,D and Couturier,AR (editors) (2007) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005. Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada, Ontario Field Ornithologists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and Ontario Nature, 706pp.

LaForest,SM (1993) Birds of Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Friends of Presqu'ile Park / Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 436pp.

Sadler,D (1983) Our Heritage of Birds: Peterborough County in the Kawarthas. Peterborough Field Naturalists / Orchid Press, Peterborough, ON, 192pp.

Stokes,DW (1979) A Guide to Bird Behavior, Volume 1. Little, Brown and Company, 335pp.

Graham Wilson, posted 24 May 2014

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