What Small Grey and White Bird is Flicking Its Tail from that Bare Branch?

I seem to find Eastern Phoebes most often when I am exploring near the edge of water. Sometimes it will be a tiny stream like the one through Riverwood Conservancy nearest the main buildings. Other times it is near a wooded lake shore near Ottawa. Sometimes it is near a good sized brook, like Sheridan Creek in the Rattray Marsh. This past spring, it was along the pobble-rock beach of Lake Ontario at Jack Darling.

Photo of Eastern Phoebe Maple on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Do Phoebes Only Live and Hunt Near Water?


There’s no rule that says Phoebes need to hunt for insects near water bodies. They are not fishing birds, unlike the Belted Kingfishers I often see in similar locations.

Photo of Eastern Phoebe Green Leaves On NaturalCrooksDotCom

According to bird books, Phoebes do seem to prefer the edges of wooded places where they adjoin more open land. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the edge places I explore most often are those along water ways?

What Grey Bird Is Perched On That Branch Wagging Its Tail?

Photo of Eastern Phoebe Bare Branch on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Either way, if I see a small bird perched on a bare twig near water, dark above and pale below, my instincts shout Phoebe! Frankly Phoebes always look grey-winged and -backed to me but various sources describe them as brown or brownish-grey. They do not have bright wing bars unlike many other flycatchers. Nor do they have an obvious eye ring. Their underside and front is light coloured often with some grey streaking along their chests and sides. They may have a hint of yellow, too.

Photo of Eastern Phoebe Near Ground On NaturalCrooksDotCom
Phoebes don’t always perch ‘high’.

And they wag their tails. For some unknown reason, Phoebes bob their tails up and down fairly frequently when they are perched.

Photo of Eastern Phoebe Glint on NaturalCrooksDotCom

It’s only February so it will be another month or two before I see my first Phoebe of the year but I’m already looking forward to it.

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7 thoughts on “What Small Grey and White Bird is Flicking Its Tail from that Bare Branch?

  1. A phoebe has found a leafless tree just outside of my home and for over a week has been calling for a mate (presumably).

  2. Eastern Phoebe November 27…1pm. Cool but sunny day…hanging out on barbed wire fence along a cow pasture…heavily wooded and stream 22 feet away….

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