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I recently encountered and photographed a Say’s Phoebe while driving around in agricultural country. I see these birds from time to time: typically they’re perched on fences or low vegetation. They use these perches as home bases from which they forage for small insects. They are acrobatic fliers, seemingly capable of doing loops and other impressive aerial maneuvers as they pursue their prey.
These are not particularly colorful birds but their aerial acrobatics nevertheless make them fun to observe. This bird is also a reminder of just how evolved some species are. Phoebes must have incredibly acute vision in order to chase insects on the wing that are as small as flies and mosquitos. The level of neurological and muscular development that this bird must have in order to perform its aerial maneuvers and to actually capture such small insects while they are in flight is sort of mind boggling. So, don’t think of this bird as being drab, think of it as amazing.
Say’s Phoebes are closely related to Black Phoebes, a species that I’ve featured on several occasions. They are morphologically quite similar: they are about the same size and shape. Their plumage, obviously, differs. They employ very similar hunting tactics. Both species run down and capture insects in flight. What really differentiates the two species in my mind is their choice of habitats. Black Phoebes almost invariably hang out near water. Typically, one finds them perched adjacent to or on branches that overhang streams and ponds. Say’s Phoebes, by contrast, like grasslands and open fields.
Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f8 @ 1/2500.