Mystery Bird: Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans

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[Mystery bird] Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans, photographed on Pacific Coast in San Francisco, California. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]

Image: Terry Sohl, 18 December 2008 [larger view].

Photo taken with a Canon 50D, 400 5.6L.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:

A plain gray bird with a neatly set-off white belly and some white in the wings. White-winged Junco, right? Here's a great exercise: though that description fits both the junco and our quiz bird (which happens to be a Black Phoebe), there are many, many differences between the sparrow and the flycatcher. How many can you list?

Like the quiz bird preceding this, the Black Phoebe has a very wide range in the Americas. As you go south, the birds get generally darker, with more conspicuous and more contrasting white in the wings. What they all share, though, whether in Arizona or in Ecuador, is a loud, bright, cheerful chip (quite like a Swamp Sparrow) and the habit of flicking the tail up before wagging it down.

There's a flycatcher in the ointment, of course. It turns out that as Black Phoebe moves north, its new breeding range is coming to overlap that of Eastern Phoebe (which is moving west). Apparent hybrids have been seen in Colorado. The fun never ceases when you're a birder!

Review all mystery birds to date.

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I believe this is an adult Black Phoebe. It has the required black head, uppers and white belly along with a peaked rear crown.