Black Phoebe

Sayornis nigricans
Range Map

One of my favorite birds, the Black Phoebe is often conspicuous when hunting their insect prey. They are not especially migratory and are resident throughout most of their range, which is the coastal slopes in the Pacific Northwest, and south through California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, western Texas, most of Mexico and Central America, and parts of western South America.

Today’s taxonomists call out six subspecies in two groups of Black Phoebe:

  • Northern Group
    • S. n. semiatra lives in the
      western USA from coastal Oregon, to west-central Texas and western Mexico (including Baja California), south to Nayarit.
    • S. n. nigricans lives in Mexico, south to Chiapas.
    • S. n. aquatica lives in southern Mexico to northern Central America.
    • S. n. amnicola lives in Central America from Costa Rica to Panama.
  • White-Winged Group
    • S. n. angustirostris lives in southern Central America and northern South America.
    • S. n. latirostris lives in the Andes mountains and foothills from Bolivia to northern Argentina.

I’ve enjoyed the company of Black Phoebes in my southern California yard and across San Diego County into Imperial County at the Salton Sea. I’ve met them in the Central Valley in northern California, in Arizona, and in west Texas. All flycatcher foraging is fun to observe. Black Phoebes are easier to observe than some others, because they often hunt in the open, rather than in canopy thickets. When flycatchers engage in the hunt for food, often they find a favorite perch, sail out attempting to snag a meal, then return to the same launching point. They may repeat their attack from the same perch a half-dozen times before moving on to a new perch and repeating the dance from there.

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