Cochise County Birds: Say’s Phoebe

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Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya, fooled us for a while. We knew the little bird was a flycatcher, but our Cochise County, Arizona, acreage had been visited by other species of flycatchers these past few years.

The flashiest? That would be the pair with bright lemon yellow bellies.

Unfortunately for the guy with the camera, those yellow bellies turned tail and flew away every time they saw a lens aimed their way. Fortunately, at least one Say’s Phoebe dropped by to take their place; we didn’t have to suffer through a flycatcher deficiency. (“That’s a joke, son,” as Foghorn Leghorn would say.)

It wasn’t until the newcomer offered to pose for the camera that I realized we had a much friendlier, or at least less wary, sort of flycatcher on tap. I even got one shot of the pretty bird in flight, body facing the camera, as it hovered like a tiny hummingbird.

I had no idea flycatchers could hover, but this one certainly did. Take a look.

Our resident Say's Phoebe (Cochise County, Arizona) hovers in midair, precisely like a hummingbird.  I didn't know they could do that!

Our resident Say’s Phoebe (Cochise County, Arizona) hovers in midair, precisely like a hummingbird. I didn’t know they could do that!

The Say’s Phoebe is a bit longer and more slender than other flycatchers. Our Arizona individual is mostly gray on top, except for the tail, which is pretty much black. The breast is so light in color that I’d call it an off white, though the literature calls it light gray, and the belly is either peach or buff or cinnamon in hue, depending on your particular brand of color vision.

Various online articles describe Say’s Phoebe as follows:

    1. Somewhat color variable, depending on geography.

    2. Plentiful from Canada to Mexico and in no need of protection at this time.

    3. Often seen around houses. In fact, they’ll sometimes nest on top of buildings.

The bird seen in these photos (all pics on this page are of the same individual) seemed to like our house (called the Border Fort) in a big way. It flew back and forth between two mesquite trees, one of which is situated no more than ten feet from the structure. It was impossible to choose between backdrops; brilliant blue sky and lush leafy green mesquite foliage were equally pleasing to the eye.

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #1, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say’s Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #1, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher)  on mesquite #2, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say’s Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #2, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #3, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say’s Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #3, Cochise County, Arizona.

Pam has persuaded me to add on a back porch to the Border Fort. It will be used to house a conventional propane fueled hot water tank (which will receive preheated water from the existing passive solar heater) with most of the 64 square foot space being utilized as a tool shed (which we definitely need). Sadly, though, the relatively small 8′ x 8′ addition will also block a couple of viewing angles. There will now be a blind spot.

From my bedroom, I will no longer be able to monitor the “far out” mesquite tree where this Say’s Phoebe was spotted this afternoon. That tree is still clearly visible from the west window in the office, but…well, into life a little rain must fall, and all that.

Compromise, compromise.

At least, the blind spot will not include the back porch (tool shed) door. That will be set in the north wall of the addition, which is the best protection from our driving monsoon rains and will also allow me to monitor it from my office window without any effort at all.

For now, let’s monitor a few more Say’s Phoebe photos.

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #4, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say’s Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #4, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #5, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say’s Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #5, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #6, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say’s Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #6, Cochise County, Arizona.

I don’t believe this bird (or any bird of this species) has decided to live here before this year, 2013. We don’t get many transients this late in the season (November) unless you count illegal immigrant humans trekking northward from time to time, which makes me suspect our cautious yet friendly Say’s Phoebe may have decided to spend the winter with us. It’s possible we’re looking at a bachelor male who will do his best next spring to attract a mate and build a bit of family life.

That’s pure conjecture, of course, but a northern mockingbird did that two years ago. The mocker remained utterly silent throughout the winter months, then went nuts in late spring, calling out and jump-flying high into the air in what appeared to be displays designed to show the goods to the mockingbird girls.

It worked for him. Maybe it’ll work for our little flycatcher.

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #7, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say’s Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #7, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #8, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say’s Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #8, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #9, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say’s Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #9, Cochise County, Arizona.

When I was a kid growing up on a cattle ranch in Montana, before I was old enough to become more or less consumed with ranch work, school work, and figuring out how to chase girls, I was pretty serious about bird watching. Our mother owned a huge Audubon bird book with hundreds of colored plates in it. The illustrations were stunning.

At the time, I had no idea John James Audubon had killed each bird in the book before he did the paintings. If he tried that today–wiping out a few dozen raptors in the name if illustrative science, for instance–he’d be tarred and feathered and tossed into prison at best.

Lucky for me, somebody invented the digital camera. I prefer live models, thank you very much.

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #10, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say’s Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #10, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #11, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say’s Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #11, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #12, Cochise County, Arizona.

Say’s Phoebe (flycatcher) on mesquite #12, Cochise County, Arizona.

Guess that’s all for today. Now, if I can figure out how to get a few dozen shots of those elusive, brush hugging javelinas….

3 thoughts on “Cochise County Birds: Say’s Phoebe

  1. This is a really beautiful bird and these are wonderful photos. Just got back and worn out. We will have to wait till Dec. appointments to see what the results are. No more appointments until then.

  2. That sounds like a huge relief. We had one here today, too–big “scare” ’cause one of Pam’s key meds needed a subscription for refill from the telemed shrink’s office, and the only girl I could reach said she would do it, didn’t, & wasn’t answering my calls. Long story, but in the end, got it filled this morning, right on time.

    I agree that this is a really beautiful bird (and yes, I’m tickled with the photos,too).

    Turned 70 today. One of my aunts sent a card suggesting, “Why not do something you’ve never done before–i.e., NOTHING?”

    Yeah, right. 🙂

  3. What a gorgeous bird! He looks soft, almost like down. It’s amazing that he seems to have actually posed for you. How far away were you when you took the shots, Ghost? (I know you use a Canon for still shots. What model is it?)

    Javelinas. Isn’t that Spanish for pigs? I just love the nature shots you take, Ghost. It’s a real treat every time.

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