Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2006-35

Common name:

Eastern phoebe

Scientific name: Sayornis phoebe
Date: 3 September 2006
Time: 7:30 pm
Length of time observed: approximately 1-2 minutes
Number: 1
Age: unknown
Sex: unknown
Location: Capitol Reef National Park, Fruita area, in park down the road from visitor center.
County: Wayne
Latilong: unknown
Elevation: unknown
Distance to bird: as close as about 25 feet
Optical equipment: Leica 10x50 binoculars
Weather: Partly cloudy
Light Conditions: indirect evening light (diffuse)
Description:        Size of bird:  Estimated as being little smaller than a Say's phoebe. Considerably larger than Chipping sparrows nearby.
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Typical Sayornis flycatcher shape
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Dark, sooty gray above; pale below, with dusky chest
(Description:)            Bill Type: Slender, all dark, proportions as for Say's phoebe
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
1) Upperparts: The bird was distinctly dark for most flycatchers, with upperparts that were sooty gray, with some brown overtones, from head to tail, including wings.
2) Face & Throat: The dark extended down the entire face, including the auriculars, and contrasted sharply with the whitish throat. There was no eyering at all around the dark eye.
3) Bill: The bill was slim, all black, and proportioned like a Say's phoebe.
4) Breast: The upper breast was dusky gray, contrasting with the pale throat and yellowish belly. Unstreaked.
5) Belly & Lower Breast: Pale, creamy yellowish-white. Unstreaked.
6) Head: Head shape was the flattish (i.e. gradually curved, giving it a somewhat broad/big-headed look). There was no sign of a crest or point.
7) Wings: The wings were dark with two very thin yet distinct pale wing bars. Though I did not note this at the time, I believe the wings were somewhat long, as in a Say's phoebe.
8) Legs: relatively short for a passerine (like most flycatchers) so posture was much lower than for a thrush or even most warblers.
Song or call & method of delivery: silent
Behavior: Flew from thicket near Fremont River onto mowed lawn of the park, stayed there for several seconds, then flew up onto a low-hanging branch (about 15feet up) hanging down from a large tree. Pumped tail down when perched (and up once). The bird held its body rather horizontal when perched (compared to, say, sparrows, robins, or empidonax flycatchers).
Habitat: Well-groomed park with mown lawn and tall trees around the edge (it was in this area where the bird stayed), forming an open understory where large branches hang over the grass. The Fremont River flows next to the park. A patch of fairly dry bushes/thickets/sticks adjoined the park on one side (from which the bird originally flew), while a willow thicket adjoined the park nearby. The entire fruita area is situated in a steep-walled sandstone canyon and is filled with orchards of
apple and peach trees, along with native riparian vegetation, stretching along the Fremont River. The riparian strip forms a bit of an oasis, especially when coming from the east.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
1) Black phoebe has dark throat, black (not dusky gray) breast, and white (not yellowish) belly.
2) Say's phoebe lacks whitish throat and pale whitish-yellow belly (A Say's also has a distinct orangy cast to its belly). This bird appeared a bit smaller than a Say's phoebe.
3) Western wood-pewees are more petit, tend to have a more pointed head, and lack the yellowish white belly. This bird had a clean contrast between the auriculars and throat/chin area, with no sign of even a vague malar stripe. WW-pewees also tend to perch upright, unlike this
bird. Overall the jizz on this bird was wrong for a wood-pewee.
4) Empidonax flycatchers in this part of the world all have some degree of eyering and/or noticeably pale lower mandibles. They are also much smaller. Most usually perch more upright, too.
5) Vermillion flycatchers can have a creamy-pale belly, but in those plumages also have streaks on their breast, a different face pattern, and also have shorter tails and are smaller.
6) Myiarchus flycatchers all have larger bills, are larger birds, and their throat-breast-belly color is different in quality. Their tails are proportionally too long and don't bob.
7) Kingbirds all have very (too) yellow bellies, paler gray heads, and are much bigger than this bird. They don't bob their tails, which, in the two likely species around here, both have some white/pale pattern on them.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I've seen this bird on my trips back East, a couple times in Utah, and on my trips to Latin America. When I saw this bird, I immediately thought, "oh, an Eastern phoebe--too bad I've
already seen one..."
References consulted: A few minutes later, when I returned to the car, I checked the National Geographic Society "Field Guide to the Birds of North America".
Description from: Notes taken at time of sighting
Observer: David S. Wheeler
Observer's address: 2196 South 1000 East, SLC, UT 84106
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: none I am aware of
Date prepared: 6 Sep 2006
Additional material:  
Additional comments: