Common Name: Black Phoebe
Scientific Name: Sayornis nigricans
Subspecies: The black phoebe has six subspecies, but these can be divided into two groups which are sometimes considered to be separate species: the nigricans group (black phoebe) and the latirostris group (white-winged phoebe). The Sayornis nigricans semiatra is the subspecies in Las Vegas.
Order/Family: Passeriformes (Perching Birds)/Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers) The phoebes are a genus, Sayornis, of birds in the tyrant flycatcher family. The flycatchers are the largest family of birds on earth, with over 400 known species.
Description: The Black Phoebe has predominantly black plumage, with white on its belly and undertail coverts. The white forms an inverted “V” in the lower breast. The sexes are identical and plumage does not vary seasonally. Juveniles have browner plumage, cinnamon-brown feather tips on their body, and brown wing-bars. The bird has brown irises and black legs, feet, and beak.
The phoebe can be recognized by a characteristic “tail-wagging” motion, in which the tail is lowered and the tail’s feathers fanned out. They have a characteristic flight patter in which they fly in a loop, returning to the same or a nearby location.
Distribution: The Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) breeds in the west and southwest United States, Mexico and Central America, and parts of South America. Sayornis nigricans semiatra is found in southwest United States to western Mexico, including Baja California.
Habitat: It is always found near water and is often found at coastal cliffs, river/lake banks, or even park fountains. Habitats must also include a supply of mud for nest building, and the birds’ specialized nesting requirements probably cause their somewhat irregular range.