Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the black phoebe.

Soon it will be time to watch for our summer birds and this is one of them. The Say’s phoebe has already arrived and the black phoebe won’t be far behind. These are birds of the south and west, usually not straying far from their winter grounds. They range from southern North America to as far south as Argentina. Here we are north of their interior range, but some adventuresome birds spend the summer in our part of Colorado.

Although they may be found in a variety of habitat types, these birds are never far from water. They perch in the open, low to the ground on a branch or rock, on the lookout for food. They will fly out to catch an insect midair, or snatch one from the ground, on leaves or on the water’s surface. On occasion, they will also catch minnows near the surface of a pond.

Mud is required for building the cup-shaped nest, plastered to a vertical, protected surface. Increasingly, black phoebes are utilizing man-made surfaces, like building eaves or culverts, for nest sites. Nonsocial outside of the breeding season, pairs aggressively defend their breeding territory from other phoebes, flycatchers and songbirds.

Black phoebes are charcoal-gray colored with a white belly and a large, peaked head. A small hook on top of a thin, sharp beak helps in catching larger insects. In typical flycatcher fashion, this bird pumps its tail when perched.

Aided by their tolerance for human activities, population numbers of black phoebes are increasing.

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