Eastern Phoebe Flight Song

Photo of a male Eastern Phoebe perched on a twig.I was wandering around a nature preserve in Frederick County, Maryland one evening in late March, several years ago, noticing that the Eastern Phoebes had recently returned from their winter foray south. I was recording bird sounds, there isn’t much song in late March. I found a male Eastern Phoebe chirping excitedly in a lower section of the preserve. I began to record all of the chirps and notes that he was uttering. As I followed him around I noticed that another phoebe was close by watching this displaying male. All of the sudden the male began to chirp rapidly from a perch over the trail. He launched into the air and delivered a wonderfully rich series of notes as he flew in an undulating circle. While calling, he completed two laps of his small circle and landed on the perch from which he originally launched. Once perched, he started singing rich versions of the typical Eastern Phoebe song, quietly at first, and crescendoing as he sang more phrases. Wow, I had just witnessed, and recorded, my first Eastern Phoebe flight song.

Little did I know that this behavior had not previously been recorded in print or on audio tape. Since this original exposure to the flight display and song, I have heard it numerous times, even in the fall. Most of the time the display is saved for the evening twilight portion of the day, starting shortly after the sunset. Once, shortly after sunrise in the fall, and after giving my rendition of a barred owl, a close Eastern Phoebe exploded into flight song right over the heads of an assembled crowd of appreciative birdwatchers. That was the only time that I have heard the display given outside of the evening twilight portion of the day.

So, here is my original recording (still my best to-date example) of the entire display of Eastern Phoebe flight song:

Eastern Phoebe flight song at evening twilight. Frederick County, Maryland. March 28, 1998. ©Wil Hershberger.

Comments

  1. I have seen Eastern Phoebes do their flight songs before, and as you said, it’s usually at dusk. I too once saw one doing this in the middle of the day, at a friend’s house in an open country habitat.

  2. Had one try and make a nest in the corner of my porch but the nest was too big and eventually fell off. So I put up a small plank of wood in the corner and now this year they have a nest there that won’t fall off. Then always sit on the porch railings here in GA and watch us inside our office.

  3. This was such a wonderful recording. What was interesting is that my little poodle thought there was a bird on my desk(since the sound was coming from my computer) and he climbed on a chair to check. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I am in love with this bird nesting on our balcony in Maryland, both couple contribute to building the nest inside the bird house and both contribute to raise the babies. The first time this summer they had two, who disappeared suddenly before growing. The couple came back three weeks later and re-built the same with three babies. They are insect eaters with a fantastic chirping, a little different from the recording.
    Thank you and God bless our nature.

  5. Moving up north Michigan three years ago it has been quite the learning experince for me.

    Evey year has been different and quite exciting for me. This year on the side of my home what I thought to be the starting of a wasp nest at first and then some sort of swallows nest it turned out to be an estern phoebe to my delight. I have been watching the nest waiting for the arrival of the little bobbing heads soon. Thank you for your recordings.

    Amos

  6. I have heard the flutter call and it is more like the flutter call of the Acadian Flycatcher than this flight display recording. I have only heard this vocalization type while the “male” is in flight and circling. I have never heard it in direct flight or from a perched bird.
    I will have to look around for a recording of the hoover flight call and do a sonogram comparison.
    Wil

  7. I am in love with the phoebe that has managed to find a nesting place just above my front door (to be literal about Lang’s comment, I think, yesterday, about the surprises one finds just outside one’s door)! I often step out into the night to drink in the night sky, and as I was moving off the stoop, a “flutter by” of my friend, Phoebe, made my heart momentarily flutter, it was so unexpected. I too, most often hear her early morning for a bit, and again at the close of day. I am so enjoying these recordings by all of you…thank you! Just as a side note, 2 bald eagles flew over last week, quite low!

  8. Incredible recording Wil! It is interesting that the sequence of six “songs” given during the display sound somewhat different from the normal songs given while perched. According to a study by Smith in 1969 (quoted in the Eastern Phoebe species account in Birds of North American Online), the “chatter call” is almost always given as the male hovers at a potential or existing nest site while the mate looks on. So I wonder if your flight song display is actually a superb example of the nest-site showing display described by Smith?

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