Common Name

Scientific Name

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Photo by Nicky Davis
Photo Copyright Nicky Davis

The black phoebe, Sayornis nigricans, is a flycatcher that breeds in woodlands and farmlands in western California, the southwestern United States, and Middle and South America. Its breeding distribution in Utah is limited to the Mojave Desert in the southwestern corner of the state, where it is an uncommon permanent resident. Wanderers have occasionally been seen in other areas of southern Utah. The diet of the black phoebe consists mainly of flying insects, but individuals will occasionally take insects and arthropods off of plants. Typically, black phoebes perch to wait for a passing prey item and then make short flight in pursuit of the insect. During the winter, the sexes maintain separate feeding territories.

The density of black phoebes is governed by the availability of nesting sites and suitable nesting material. Normally, this species breeds near water so as to ensure an adequate supply of mud for nest construction. Natural nest sites include rock faces, boulders along stream sides, and tree cavities. However, black phoebes also take advantage of suitable man-made structures and will build nests under building eaves or bridges, and in culverts and abandoned wells. In areas with human-made structures, breeding densities have increased. Black phoebes are monogamous, and they establish long-term pair bonds. The male will engage in a display of "nest-site-showing," but it is the female who selects the nesting site and builds the nest. Nests are constructed of plant material and mud, and then cemented with mud to the wall of the site, typically underneath a protective overhang. Pairs tend to reuse the same nest sites year after year. Both sexes incubate the clutch of four eggs for about fifteen days. The young are born blind and naked, and both parents feed the nestlings. The chicks leave the nest after about three weeks. The young disassociate with the nest site after only a few days, and most attain independence a week after leaving the nest. A pair will normally rear two broods in a season.


  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birderís handbook[:] a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon & Schuster, New York. xxx + 785 pp.

  • Behle, W. H., Sorensen, E. D. and C. M. White. 1985. Utah birds: a revised checklist. Utah Museum of Natural History, Occasional Publication No. 4. Salt Lake City, UT.

  • Wolf, B. O. 1997. Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricas). Birds of North America 268.