An immature Eastern Phoebe perches in a field, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
Birds belonging to the various species in the flycatcher family are a nightmare to identify. Many of the species look so similar that it is difficult to tell an Eastern Phoebe from an Eastern Wood-Peewee or a Willow Flycatcher or a Least Flycatcher or a number of others.
I often have to post a new flycatcher photo to my favorite identification source— BirdForum.net— and let the experts there decide. And even then it can spark a debate.
It’s not easy.
This is a photo of an immature Eastern Phoebe. I think. At least that’s what the folks at BirdForum.net told me when I posted the photo to that site a couple of years ago.
An Eastern Phoebe is brownish-gray above and off white below, like many other birds in the flycatcher family, but it has a dusky wash along the sides of the breast. Its head seems rather large for its size and the head can appear flat on top. Eastern Phoebes have short, thin bills.
So this fits the description of an Eastern Phoebe.
But it’s also similar to an online description of an Eastern Wood-Peewee: "Eastern Wood-Pewees are olive-gray birds with dark wings, and little to no yellow on the underparts. The sides of the breast are dark with an off-white throat and belly, giving a vested appearance typical of pewees. They show little or no eye ring. Adults have thin, white wing bars those of juveniles are buffy."
And descriptions for several other flycatchers are similar.
This photo is a bit unusual for me, especially when compared to my many other bird photos. I typically try to get a close as possible to a bird so I can show details. And I have another photo of this bird when it landed closer to me.
But I like this photo because it shows how the young phoebe fits with its environment. The spot of brownish gray in an otherwise green scene draws the viewer’s eye to the bird. The defocused plants provide texture to the surrounding area.
So this fits the description of an Eastern Phoebe. But it’s also similar to an online description of an Eastern Wood-Peewee.