Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Say's Phoebe - Sayornis saya
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General Comments The Say's Phoebe breeds over much of the Western United States and Western Canada, but it withdraws from most of the northern portions of the range during the winter. Its normal winter range is in the southwestern United States and Mexico, though strays to the Southeastern states are not overly unusual. It has been found in North Carolina on close to 20 occasions, all in the eastern half of the state during fall or winter. Thankfully, records have been increasing in the past decade, though this may be due to better observer coverage.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Very rare fall migrant/stray, occasionally lingering into the winter; 13 records. One was seen near the Pony Pens at Ocracoke Island (Hyde) on 11 Oct 1991 [Chat 57:56 link]; one was present in central Carteret from 1-6 Dec 2005 [Chat 70:10 link]; one stayed at the O'Berry Center near Goldsboro (Wayne) from 9 Jan - 18 Mar 2007 [Chat 72:8-9 link], for a remarkable midwinter record; one was noted on the beach at Bald Head Island (Brunswick) on 3 Sep 2010 [Chat 75:2 link], [Chat 75:47 link]; one was seen at Alligator River NWR, 24 Nov 2012 [Chat 77:29 link]; and one was seen in Cherry (Washington) from 27 Dec 2012 - 7 Feb 2013 [Chat 77:58 link]. Two were found at well separated locations in Washington on 27 Dec 2013 [Chat 78:74 link] -- one just west of Lake Phelps, seen only on that date; and one near Beasley Road and US 64, which remained to 19 Jan 2014 and was seen and photographed by numerous people. One was seen at North River Farms (Carteret) on 28 Sep 2014. Fall 2017 saw two additional reports: one at the Voice of America site in northwestern Beaufort, 16 Oct - 5 Dec, and one in southeastern Washington, 24-27 Nov. One was seen and photographed at Waves (Dare) on 5-6 Oct 2020; and another was photographed at Ocracoke Island (Hyde,/i>) on 5 Oct 2022.
Piedmont Casual; five or six records. One was seen near Raleigh on 23 Oct 1965 [Chat 30:28 link], [Chat 54:56 link]. Another was seen near Lillington (Harnett) from 7-12 Dec 1985 [Chat 51:75-76 link], [Chat 54:56 link]. The third and fourth were both in 2021: one along Zion Church Road in southeastern Union from 10-16 Oct*, and one along Howerton Road in northeastern Guilford from 16 Oct - 11 Apr 2022* [Chat 86:40 link], [Chat 86:61 link]. [Both birds were seen within 1.5 hours on 16 Oct and thus were different birds.] One seen in southern Rockingham on 15 Apr 2022 may well have been the Guilford individual [Chat 86:84-85 link]. One seen again along Howerton Road from 29 Sep 2022 into the winter [Chat 87:16 link] certainly has to be the same individual as the one that overwintered there a year ago. In fact, it spent the entire winter and was seen into the spring season [Chat 87:40 link], last seen on 6 Apr 2023.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips The bird along Howerton Road in northeastern Guilford has been present for the past two falls and winters (2021-22 and 2022-23), giving people across the state ample chances to add the species to their state or life lists.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-08-10], LeGrand[2023-05-19], LeGrand[2023-05-16]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.