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Number of species: 74

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Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe

Eastern Phoebe has a partial preformative molt and no prealternate molts. Individuals can generally be aged by examining the wing and tail, but both molt limits and rectrix shape are relatively subtle, and by spring a fair number of intermediates are not reliably aged and should be considered M-FCF (AHY). Sexes are identical in plumage; breeding females have a brood patch, but males have a poorly developed cloacal protuberance and may be more difficult to identify with confidence.

Quick tips

  • Examine the greater coverts. On FCF (HY/SY) birds, at least 4 inner greater coverts (and occasionally all) are dark with grayish tips, contrasting with retained paler juvenile coverts that are shorter and have buffy tips; on DCB (AHY/ASY) birds, all greater coverts are uniform in size and colour, with grayish tips.
  • Look at the primary coverts. On FCF (HY/SY) birds they are relatively narrow and pointed and may have small rusty tips, while on DCB (AHY/ASY) birds they are broader and more rounded, lacking any rusty tips.
  • Consider the rectrices. On FCF (HY/SY) birds they may be somewhat pointed, or with central rectrices contrastingly fresh and rounded, whereas on DCB (AHY/ASY) birds they are uniformly rounded (but beware differences in rectrix shape by age are more subtle than in many other species).

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory (2018). Last updated by Marcel Gahbauer (Mar 2022)

The molt categories displayed below may be filtered by month.


Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.

Individuals not in molt

FCJ - (HY: June - September)
Brownish upperparts; buffy wing bars
Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16206-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-3568.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16206-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-3566.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2600-16206-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-3567.jpg
FCF - (HY/SY: July - following October)
One or more outer greater coverts often shorter and with buffy tips (often worn off by spring), or all uniformly gray and contrasting with somewhat paler primary coverts; primary coverts relatively narrow and pointed, sometimes with rusty tips; rectrices uniform or with central rectrices broader, darker, and fresher
Thumbnail - MG2-2650-45300-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-3562.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2650-45300-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-3560.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2650-45300-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-3561.jpg
DCB - (AHY/ASY: July - following October)
Greater coverts uniformly gray and similar to primary coverts; primary coverts gray, relatively broad and rounded; rectrices uniformly broad and rounded
Thumbnail - MG2-2440-40935-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-3571.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2440-40935-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-3569.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2440-40935-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-3570.jpg

Thumbnail - MG2-9900-02001-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-3565.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-9900-02001-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-3563.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-9900-02001-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-3564.jpg

Individuals in active molt

FPJ - (HY: June - August)
Similar to FCJ; some natal down remaining and/or juvenile flight feathers still growing in
No images available yet
FPF - (HY: July - October)
Similar to FCF, with most to all median coverts, some to all greater coverts, usually some to all tertials, and sometimes the central rectrices being replaced
No images available yet
SPB - (SY: July - November)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained juvenile primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts distinctly brownish and very worn
No images available yet
DPB - (AHY: July - November)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts either distinctly adult (grayish, with moderate wear) or intermediate
No images available yet

Applicable unknown plumage/age classes

Molt classes Age Months Key traits
M-FPF / UPU (FPF, SPB, DPB) U July - October Undergoing preformative or prebasic molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCF / UCU (FCF, SCB, DCB) U/AHY January - December In formative or basic plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable

Number of species: 74

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