Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2008-23

Common name:

Black Phoebe

Scientific name: Sayornis nigricans
Date: May 9, 2008
Time: ~8PM-9PM
Length of time observed: ~60 mins
Number: 1
Age: Adult
Sex:  unknown
Location: Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge – Refuge Headquarters. This is a first documented record for Fish Springs NWR of this species.
County: Juab County
Latilong: 39.85806, -113.36694
Elevation: 4370 Feet
Distance to bird: ~10m at closest
Optical equipment: 10 x 42 Leica Binoculars; Bushnell 60mm scope with 22-45x eyepiece.
Weather: Clear skies, calm wind, at dusk, ~70F at time of observation. The day had a high of ~80F and a low of ~50F.
Light Conditions:  Low angle of setting sun, many minutes of study with sun partially or directly behind observer – during and after sunset. There was sufficient light to study this bird.
Description:        Size of bird:  
(Description:)       Basic Shape:  
(Description:)  Overall Pattern:  
(Description:)            Bill Type:  
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
This bird was observed for about one hour just before and after sunset. I arrived about 7PM at Fish Springs for the May - 2008 bird survey and after greeting the Refuge Manager Jay Banta I began surveying the headquarters area for migrants. I first spotted the bird in the housing area and studied it intensely. During the course of the next 30 minutes I informed Jay about the bird and we relocated it for him and to obtain a photograph (see attached photo that was taken under very low light conditions). Written field notes were made immediately after my first encounter and this report was written primarily from those notes and the accompanying photograph. After my initial observations I consulted a Sibley Field Guide to check for additional field marks that could be used to confirm identification and exclude other possible species.

1. The overall shape/behavior of the bird was that of Sayornis species. The bird was distinctly bicolored, black above and white below. The bird gave a squat impression and had short legs.
2. The head was sooty black as were the breast and upper back. The head feathering gave a “peaked” head appearance. The lower back, wings, and tail were only slightly paler black.
3. The undertail coverts, vent area, and belly were white. The white on belly formed an inverted V-shape as it extended up into lower breast when viewed head-on). The black bib extended to lower breast – see photograph, and there was strong contrast between the black breast and white belly.
4. The bill was medium-sized and black – see photograph. The legs and feet were black.
5. Black Phoebe photographed by JS with a Nikon D80 w/Tamron 200-500mm zoom lens. Photograph was processed by FSNWR employee Robert Sims.
The relatively long, black tail was often partially spread, or flared, (as shown in photo) and notched at the tip. The outer edges of the outer rectrices showed faint white.
6. The iris of eye was dark.
(see photos in PDF document)
Song or call & method of delivery: This bird was not singing during the observation period.
Behavior: The bird was flying to and from a wooden fence, sallying for insects. When perched on the fence the bird frequently wagged its tail, characteristic of all Sayornis species.
Habitat: The bird was observed in the housing area at Fish Springs NWR. This bird was observed mostly in a fenced yard area with a manicured lawn..
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
These are the most similar-looking Sayornis species that could be ruled out:
Says Phoebe: Say’s Phoebe is grayish brown above, with orange brown belly and undertail-coverts. The head is slightly darker. Say’s does not have the black bib. This species is common at FSNWR.
Eastern Phoebe: Eastern Phoebe has whitish to pale yellow on underparts; only crown is sooty black. Only one or two documented records from FSNWR.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I’ve observed Black Phoebe a number of times, most recently in Washington County, Utah, and during many long ago trips to New Mexico and Arizona.
References consulted:  
Description from: Notes taken at time of sighting and notes made later
Observer: Jack Skalicky
Observer's address: 1433 Harrison Avenue, Salt Lake City, Utah  84105
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Jay Banta identified and observed the bird the same evening (May 9, 2008). Colby and Tom Neuman independently relocated and identified the bird the next morning (May 10, 2008).
Date prepared: August 28, 2008.
Additional material: Photo in PDF document
Additional Comments: