10.11.15: Phoebe in field

Eastern Phoebe in fall field, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio. 


Technical information

Oct. 8, 2011,
9:56 a.m.

40°6’50” N,
82°57'30" W

(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 


1/1000th second


Birds belonging to the various species in the flycatcher family are a nightmare to identify. Many of the species look so similar that it is difficult to tell an Eastern Phoebe from an Eastern Wood-Peewee or a Willow Flycatcher or a Least Flycatcher or a number of others.

I often have to post a new flycatcher photo to my favorite identification source — BirdForum.net — and let the experts there decide. And even then it can spark a debate.

It’s not easy.

This is a photo of an Eastern Phoebe. I think.

Actually, I’m pretty sure.

An Eastern Phoebe is brownish-gray above and off white below, like many other birds in the flycatcher family, but it has a dusky wash along the sides of the breast. Its head seems rather large for its size and the head can appear flat on top. Eastern Phoebes have short, thin bills.

So this fits the description.

But it’s also similar to an online description of an Eastern Wood-Peewee: "Eastern Wood-Pewees are olive-gray birds with dark wings, and little to no yellow on the underparts. The sides of the breast are dark with an off-white throat and belly, giving a vested appearance typical of pewees. They show little or no eyering. Adults have thin, white wing bars  those of juveniles are buffy."

And descriptions for several other flycatchers are similar.

But I identified this bird as an Eastern Phoebe and most of the experts at BirdForum.net agreed when I posted it back in 2011 (although several thought it was an Eastern Wood-Peewee).

I found this bird in a field filled with American Goldfinch on an autumn morning. The Goldfinch blended with the yellowish-brown colors in the field, which led to some interesting shots. Then I saw this bird pop up onto a stem, just above the level of the yellow flowers and facing the morning sun. I grabbed a couple of shots and liked what I saw. The flowers in the background dropped to an interesting defocused blur (or bokeh, to use a photography term) because I was closer to the bird than the bird was to the background.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.