This bird caught my eye while I was scanning the Burrowing Owl protected area for owls. It perched on one of the cables of the ornamental fence that surrounds the area, then hopped onto the ground, and then flitted across the path to a Bay Trail mileage marker post, shown in the photo on the left.
Since I am still early in my bird self-education, it took me quite a while to figure out what this bird was. The slim pointy beak says it’s some kind of flycatcher, but none of the birds by that name that I found on the web fit this one. The rusty orange belly was the main problem. Luckily, the Audubon website has a function that lines up images of lots of similar birds, and in that gallery I found my feathered catch. Data and photos on the Cornell bird lab website confirmed it. This is a Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya. It’s a kind of flycatcher. I don’t know why I haven’t seen it before; it’s been in this area for about 400,000 years.
The Cornell website has these Cool Facts about Say’s Phoebes:
- “Charles Bonaparte, a nephew of Napoleon, named the Say’s Phoebe after American naturalist Thomas Say, the first scientist to encounter the bird, at a site near Cañon City, Colorado, in 1819. During the same expedition, Say also collected 10 additional bird species. Despite finding several new bird species in his career, Say is perhaps better known as the “father of American entomology.”
- Say’s Phoebes have been in the U.S. for a long time. Paleontologists discovered Say’s Phoebe fossils in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas dating back to about 400,000 years ago (the late Pleistocene).
- The Say’s Phoebe breeds farther north than any other flycatcher and is seemingly limited only by the lack of nest sites. Its breeding range extends from central Mexico all the way to the arctic tundra. It may be following the Alaska pipeline even farther north, nesting on the pipeline itself.
- When a Say’s Phoebe finds a good nesting site, it often uses the nest year after year. In central Kansas a Say’s Phoebe reused the same nest 5 years in a row.
- Say’s Phoebes will nest just about anywhere: in mailboxes, on machinery, and even in old nests built by other species. Researchers reported them using nests built by Black and Eastern phoebes, Cliff, Bank, and Barn swallows, and American Robins.”