Eastern Phoebe

72. “Birds of Barrington” with Wendy Paulson: An Eye on the Eastern Phoebe


Because it’s Earth Day and it’s beautiful outside (thank you, Mother Nature), we decided it’s a great day to debut a new spring series focused on our feathered friends here in Barrington.  One of the most unique features of our local landscape is the wildlife we encounter living in our midst.  And we’re all fortunate to have conservationists as neighbors here in the Barrington area like nationally recognized naturalist and birder, Wendy Paulson.  We asked Wendy if she’d teach us a few things about the birds we share our yards with in this new series called Birds of Barrington.

Today, we’re excited to share Wendy’s first post about a bird found this time of year that signals warmer days ahead in Barrington, the Eastern Phoebe.


An Eye on the Eastern Phoebe

by Wendy Paulson, Birder & Barrington Area Naturalist

When spring is slow in coming, as it surely has been this year, there’s a harbinger of the season that arrives in the Barrington area in mid- to late March, no matter what the weather.  The eastern phoebe, a flycatcher whose winter range extends from the southern United States into Mexico, is one of the earliest migrants to fly back to northern breeding grounds.

Flycatchers typically hawk insects, often in mid-flight.  This spring, cold temperatures have kept most flying insects inactive.  So the pair of phoebes at our house has been foraging for insects on the ground in the leaf litter of our woods.  But even on chilly days, I warm to the unmistakable sound of the male’s raspy “Phoe-BE, PHOE-be!”

The eastern phoebe is not a charismatic bird.  It is gray-brown above and creamy white below, with a grayish tinge on its breast feathers…

Once it has established a nest territory, it does not stray far.  It is a good neighbor, mostly shy and quiet.  The phoebe often perches on low branches of trees and shrubs and bobs its tail – a behavior characteristic that makes it easy to identify.

Phoebes nest typically near or on buildings, or under eaves or bridges.  A pair has been nesting for years under the part of our house elevated on piers.  It builds a round soft nest of grass, hair, and moss on one of the steel girders.  At first the nest looks something like a moss volcano.  But once the babies hatch and grow, it gradually sinks and flattens.  Phoebes also will build on small roofed nest platforms available at most bird supply stores.

If you catch the two-note song of the eastern phoebe this spring, try to spot this inconspicuous but cheerful, tail-bobbing summer resident.

Click the arrow below for a listen to the Eastern Phoebe’s voice, courtesy of the Macaulay Library & the CornellLab of Ornithology.


About the Author

Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years.  She re-established the Nature Lady program in District 220 and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington.

Wendy Paulson
Wendy Paulson

Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.

During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, she taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands.

She has a regular schedule of bird walks in the Barrington area sponsored by Citizens for Conservation and Audubon Chicago Region.

Wendy is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.

She and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.

Wendy’s next bird walk in Barrington is happening at 7:30 a.m. one week from today, on Monday, April 29th, at Baker’s Lake.  The hike is free and the public is welcome to attend, but they request that you RSVP so they know you’re coming.  CLICK HERE for the full list of Wendy Paulson’s upcoming bird hikes in Barrington or find more information at CitizensForConservation.org.

Do you have a question about birds you’ve seen in Barrington?  Just enter you question in the comments box for this post and we’ll ask Wendy!

Photo Credit: Kelly Colgan Azar via Compfight cc


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