Black Phoebe Facts | Kidadl


Black Phoebe Facts

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Are you an avid bird lover and want to know more about a special bird? Don't worry we have a perfect bird for you, that is the black phoebe. This phoebe bird, belonging to the order Passeriformes, family Tyrannidae, has three species, with the black phoebe being one of these tiny North American flycatchers spread across the western United States through California and Arizona. Like every other black-colored bird in Native American mythology, these birds too have a spiritual meaning similar to change, mystery, magic, or death. Some Americans also believe that these birds are spirit-energizers, with their high-pitched chirp and swooping flight.

This tiny bird has a lovely plumage of black glistening feathers along with a soft white underbelly, pointed small beak, and under tail coverts, in both males and females alike. The reusable nest of these birds is built near water habitats and the breeding process is unique to other species of phoebe. There are six sub-species of black phoebe. We recognize this insect and fish-eating bird by its shrill’ tee-hee chirp and tail wagging motion. Flycatching is the main mean of this bird to obtain food for which it builds its nest about 32.8 ft (10 m) above the ground. Its migration follows the emergence of insects from the North during spring to lessening in the number of insects during frost towards the South. These are territorial birds and their habitats remain the same throughout the year. They often chase other songbirds like western wood pewees, house flinches, burn swallows, brewer's blackbirds, and others.

Read on to learn more about these amazing fishes and if you like this article, then check out the great green macaw and the goose.

Black Phoebe Facts

What do they prey on?

Insects and small fish.

What do they eat?


Average litter size?


How much do they weigh?

0.5-0.8 oz (15 -22 g)

How long are they?

6.3 in (16 cm)

How tall are they?


What do they look like?

Black and White

Skin Type


What were their main threats?


What is their conservation status?

Least Concern

Where you'll find them?

Coastal Areas, River Valleys


Central America, North America, South America









Black Phoebe Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a black phoebe?

The Black Phoebe is a flycatcher bird.

What class of animal does a black phoebe belong to?

Black Phoebes fall under the class of Aves. These are small flycatcher birds.

How many black phoebes are there in the world?

The black phoebe is a very common bird and thus, they are distributed over a large span of North America, including the US and Mexico, among other countries. According to a 2019 study by Partners in Flight, this bird has an estimated breeding population of 5 million (listed by the IUCN Red List as well).

Where does a black phoebe live?

This bird is found in wetlands close to water bodies as well as coastal areas that are distributed in the two continents of North America and South America. These birds are found in California, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Argentina, and other American countries.

What is a black phoebe's habitat?

These North American birds' habitats are near water bodies. They are found on low branches, bushes, shrubs, or rocks near lakes, estuaries, streams, or sea-shores where insects, small animals, and fish are readily available. They are tolerant of human presence. The nest is often built using man-made structures and found in backyards, cattle tanks, under cliffs, bridges, or buildings.

Who do black phoebes live with?

The black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) lives in close proximity to the human population. These species of Northern American birds are usually solitary except during the breeding season. From breeding to the hatching of the eggs and raising the babies the male and the female phoebe stay together, bringing food and feeding the nestlings. The mother and father birds stay as a family with babies until they can fly after 16 days of hatching.

How long does a black phoebe live?

The black phoebe, being a flycatcher, has a similar lifespan to others of the same kind averaging around 10 years.

How do they reproduce?

These birds are monogamous in nature i.e. they have one fixed partner for breeding. Like other birds, a courtship ritual is followed. The males are known to fly near the females, singing, and then he starts chasing her. The males then find a preferable nest site which he shows to the female. However, it is the female who decides the nest. Once the nest is built these birds are known to defend these spots with high aggression from other birds of similar and different species. Usually, there are up to three broods every year. The clutch sizes of these birds are between one and six, with an average of four eggs being laid in a brood. Both the parents take care of the eggs until they hatch. The incubation period of these eggs ranges from a span of around 15-18 days after which the parents take utmost care of the young chicks.

What is their conservation status?

The conservation status of these Northern American flycatchers is Least Concern according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN Red List. As per the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the number of Black Phoebes has steadily increased over the years from 1966-2014.  The Continental Concern Score is nine out of 20 and it is not on the 2014 State Bird Watch List. Hence, conservation of this bird is required.

Black Phoebe Fun Facts

What do black phoebes look like?

Black phoebe in flight looks beautiful.

Flycatchers like the black phoebes have shiny black upper parts, with a white belly in the form of an inverted V under their breasts. Male and females are identical, they don't showcase sexual dimorphism. The male however is a little larger in size with darker plumage. Younger birds have browner plumage with cinnamon-brown feather tips all over the body. The black phoebe has a small, sharp beak.  However, these feathers start molting by the end of the nesting season and they become worn.

How cute are they?

These are adorable cute fluffy birds in simple black and white attire and fall in a similar species of ho-hum birds. They have an attractive melodious voice that makes them extremely adorable.

How do they communicate?

These birds are known to communicate with each other using a wide range of calls. These calls can either be a call of threat or in warding off invaders. For defending their territories the male phoebes are known to use a special call which uses long high pitched notes that attract the males to join forces together. The pitch of the call becomes greatly soft during the breeding season. These birds are also known to threaten their intruders by snapping their bills repetitively.

How big is a black phoebe?

Black phoebes are approximately 6.3 in (16 cm) in length. This bird is about three times bigger than the size of a bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world.

How fast can a black phoebe fly?

A black phoebe's flight is faster than many other birds. When it catches a glimpse of an insect or fish it swoops down with great speed in order to get hold of the prey.

How much does a black phoebe weigh?

The weight of black phoebe is 0.5-0.8 oz (15-22 g) approximately.

What are their male and female names of the species?

There is no specific name that has been ascribed to the black phoebe male and female birds.

What would you call a baby black phoebe?

A baby black phoebe is called a chick.

What do they eat?

Though the black phoebe flycatcher is insectivorous and loves to catch insects but is also known to consume small fishes. The majority of the diet of these birds includes insects with the likes of caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, wild bees, and other similar-sized insects.

Are they friendly?

Yes, these flycatchers are friendly little birds that like to stay near the human population. We can attract these birds into our garden if there is a source of water like a pond, lake, or spring with a variety of small fish. If an attractive habitat is built by planting trees like cottonwoods in the garden along with perches for hunting they can often attract these flycatchers. An insect-friendly yard for hunting, open woodland, bird-berth, perches, water bodies with fishes, and trees make a friendly environment for these North American flycatchers.  

Would they make a good pet?

No, these birds live in the wild, but can be attracted to human gardens that provide a friendly atmosphere for nesting and feeding. However, they prefer open spaces rather than a birdhouse. To take care of these birds one must provide a suitable environment for these birds. As for feeding, an insect-rich habitat would be the perfect place for their feeding. For artificial bird meals, they are known to eat from mealworms and not from seed feeders.

Did you know...

These North American birds have a specialized tail-pumping motion. This tail pumping aids in balancing, foraging, is a signal to territorial intruders, and a signal to potential predators.  

What does a black phoebe build its nest with?

The male phoebe shows a possible nest site to the female by flying in front of the nesting habitat. The female makes the final decision about building the nest. They build their nests in places that are both natural or man-made like unused wells, hollow trees, and boulders beside a stream. The cup-shaped nests are built using mud, moss, leaves, and lined with fine grass, stems, and hair.

Do black phoebes eat fish?

Yes, they will dive into the water to capture minnows and other small fish. A part of their diet comprises fish.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds including the grey partridge and the house finch.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one of our Black Phoebe coloring pages.  

Written By
Moumita Dutta

Moumita is a multilingual content writer and editor. She has a PostGraduate Diploma in sports management, which enhanced her sports journalism skills, as well as a degree in journalism and mass communication. She's good at writing about sports and sporting heroes. Moumita has worked with many soccer teams and produced match reports, and sports is her primary passion.

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