The Black Phoebe has a black breast that softly fades into a white belly. The rear of the crown ends in a slight peak, and it has a slender, pointy bill.
To further help identify the Black Phoebe, you will see it continuously bobbing its tail up and down. Also, the one out at the Arboretum regularly vocalizes. Peterson describes their voice as, “Thin, strident fi-bee, fi-bee, rising then dropping; also a sharp slurred chip.”
Their diet is almost entirely insects, and interestingly, they will occasionally catch small fish at the surface of the water. Phoebes are usually found near water like the bank of the Willamette River or the lily pond out at the Arboretum where they will find a rich source of insects.
It forages from a small perch where it will quickly swoop out, snap an insect out of the air and quickly return to its spot. Its perch is usually no more than about seven feet off the ground or over the water. That said, I routinely see it sitting on top of the barn or the adjacent silo catching insects.
Over the last 3 or 4 years, I have seen a Black Phoebe spending the fall and winter months at the Arboretum. I wonder if it is the same individual. The map in Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America shows that the Willamette Valley is the northern part of their range. A note on the map states that their range is expanding northward.
Nature is an inexhaustible source of wonder. Hope to see you out there.