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.