Say's Phoebes range from Alaska to Mexico west of the Mississippi. They live here in Sycamore Canyon and I frequently see them hunting from the trees in the wash. I hear their call like a tiny red-tail hawk in the mornings sometimes. Today I saw one as I walked my grandson. It flew down and landed on the metal railings alongside the sidewalk, bobbing its tail with its head feathers raised in a bit of a crest. I was not more than 10 feet from it as it watched me through dark onyx eyes. The thin autumn sunlight cast long weak shadows across the sidewalk as the bird and I observed each other before it finally flew off.
I’m currently reading a book called Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul. One of the most interesting things I am learning from the book is where the names of some of the birds come from. Say's Phoebe is named for a Philadelphia Quaker named Thomas Say. Though trained as an apothecary, his love of nature and the natural world drove him to learn all he could. As a self-taught naturalist, he joined the 1819 Stephen Long Expedition to the west. His great uncle, William Bartram, was curator of the first natural history museum of the United States and one of his companions on the trek was Titian Peale, son of the famous American artist, Charles Wilson Peale. Say was the first to describe many of the birds and mammals of the west, but his primary interests were insects and mollusks and he published a three volume set called “American Entomology” from 1824-1828.