Vol. 2, No. 3 – The Phoebe

The Phoebe or Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

The Phoebe or Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

From col. J. G. Parker. Jr. Copyrighted by
Nature Study Pub. Co., 1897, Chicago.


Oft the Phoebe’s cheery notes
Wake the laboring swain;
“Come, come!” say the merry throats,
“Morn is here again.”
Phoebe, Phoebe! let them sing for aye,
Calling him to labor at the break of day.
—C. C. M.

EARLY everywhere in the United States we find this cheerful bird, known as Pewee, Barn Pewee, Bridge Pewee, or Phoebe, or Pewit Flycatcher. “It is one of that charming coterie of the feathered tribe who cheer the abode of man with their presence.” There are few farmyards without a pair of Pewees, who do the farmer much service by lessening the number of flies about the barn, and by calling him to his work in the morning by their cheery notes.

Dr. Brewer says that this species is attracted both to the vicinity of water and to the neighborhood of dwellings, probably for the same reason—the abundance of insects in either situation. They are a familiar, confiding, and gentle bird, attached to localities, and returning to them year after year. Their nests are found in sheltered situations, as under a bridge, a projecting rock, in the porches of houses, etc. They have been known to build on a small shelf in the porch of a dwelling, against the wall of a railroad station, within reach of the passengers, and under a projecting window-sill, in full view of the family, entirely unmoved by the presence of the latter at meal time.

Like all the flycatcher family the Phoebe takes its food mostly flying. Mrs. Wright says that the Pewee in his primitive state haunts dim woods and running water, and that when domesticated he is a great bather, and may be seen in the half-light dashing in and out of the water as he makes trips to and from the nest. After the young are hatched both old and young disport themselves about the water until moulting time. She advises: “Do not let the Phoebes build under the hoods of your windows, for their spongy nests harbor innumerable bird-lice, and under such circumstances your fly-screens will become infested and the house invaded.”

In its native woods the nest is of moss, mud, and grass placed on a rock, near and over running water; but in the vicinity of settlements and villages it is built on a horizontal bridge beam, or on timber supporting a porch or shed. The eggs are pure white, somewhat spotted. The notes, to some ears, are Phoebe, phoebe, pewit, phoebe! to others, of somewhat duller sense of hearing, perhaps, Pewee, pewee, pewee! We confess to a fancy that the latter is the better imitation.


PHOEBE.Sayornis phœbe. Other names: “Pewit,” “Pewee.”

Range—Eastern North America; in winter south to Mexico and Cuba.

Nest—Compactly and neatly made of mud and vegetable substances, with lining of grass and feathers.

Eggs—Four or five; pure white, sometimes sparsely spotted with reddish brown dots at larger end.

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) by Dan

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) by Dan

Lee’s Addition:

I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild beasts of the field are Mine. (Psalms 50:11 NKJV)

Luckily today, at least here, we can ignore this one remark; “She advises: ‘Do not let the Phoebes build under the hoods of your windows, for their spongy nests harbor innumerable bird-lice, and under such circumstances your fly-screens will become infested and the house invaded.’ ” I am sure back in 1897 that was a problem for them. Isn’t it amazing how times have changed for humans, but the birds are pretty well doing the same nest building and living as before. Not sure of the interchange between the Phoebe and the Pewee. They are in the same family, Tyrannidae – Tyrant Flycatchers, but they are different species.

There are three Phoebes:
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)
Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya)

There are 14 Pewees and Wood Pewees:

Greater Pewee (Contopus pertinax)
Dark Pewee (Contopus lugubris)
Smoke-colored Pewee (Contopus fumigatus)
Ochraceous Pewee (Contopus ochraceus)
Western Wood Pewee (Contopus sordidulus)
Eastern Wood Pewee (Contopus virens)
Tropical Pewee (Contopus cinereus)
Tumbes Pewee (Contopus punensis)
White-throated Pewee (Contopus albogularis)
Blackish Pewee (Contopus nigrescens)
Cuban Pewee (Contopus caribaeus)
Hispaniolan Pewee (Contopus hispaniolensis)
Jamaican Pewee (Contopus pallidus)
Lesser Antillean Pewee (Contopus latirostris)

The genus Sayornis is a small group of medium-sized insect-eating birds in the Tyrant flycatcher family Tyrranidae native to North and South America.

They prefer semi-open or open areas. These birds wait on a perch and then catch insects in flight, also sometimes picking them up from the ground. Their nest is an open cup sometimes placed on man-made structures.

They often slowly lower and raise their tails while perched.

This species appears remarkably big-headed, especially if it puffs up the small crest. Its plumage is gray-brown above. It has a white throat, dirty gray breast and buffish underparts which become whiter during the breeding season. Two indistinct buff bars are present on each wing. Its lack of an eye ring and wingbars, and its all dark bill distinguish it from other North American tyrant flycatchers, and it pumps its tail up and down like other phoebes when perching on a branch. The Eastern Phoebe’s call is a sharp chip, and the song, from which it gets its name, is fee-bee. (Wikipedia)

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

The above article is an article in the monthly serial for September 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

The Previous Article – The House Wren

Gospel Presentation


Eastern Phoebe

Phoebe (bird) – Wikipedia


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