01.28.24: Ready to build

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.

Eastern Phoebes can be tough to identify

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, whitewing 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 2009 (although several thought it was an Eastern Wood-Peewee).

I found this bird carrying nesting material above a field in Sharon Woods Metro Park north of Columbus, Ohio, on a spring morning. I liked how it was isolated on a limb against an interesting background — blue sky breaking through defocused trees.

An Eastern Phoebe carries nesting material while perched on a limb in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

An Eastern Phoebe carries nesting material while perched on a limb in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

Tech specs

  • Date/time: May 30, 2009 8:27 AM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 40D
  • Lens: EF600mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x 
  • Focal length: 840mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/500 second
  • ISO: 800

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