Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Contopus virens

In eastern woods in summer, the plaintive whistled pee-a-wee of this small flycatcher is often heard before the bird is seen. The bird itself is usually somewhere in the leafy middle story of the trees, perched on a bare twig, darting out to catch passing insects. The Wood-Pewee sings most often at dawn and dusk, and it may continue singing quite late in the evening, after most songbirds have fallen silent.
Conservation status Still widespread and fairly common, but surveys show a slight decline in recent decades. Reasons for decline are not well known.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Woodlands, groves. Breeds in forest (mainly deciduous, sometimes mixed, and seldom coniferous forest). Favors margins of clearings, such as around meadows, roadsides, ponds, or small openings in the forest. Winters at forest edges and in scrubby woods in tropics.
In eastern woods in summer, the plaintive whistled pee-a-wee of this small flycatcher is often heard before the bird is seen. The bird itself is usually somewhere in the leafy middle story of the trees, perched on a bare twig, darting out to catch passing insects. The Wood-Pewee sings most often at dawn and dusk, and it may continue singing quite late in the evening, after most songbirds have fallen silent.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult and nestlings
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Does most foraging by watching from an exposed perch within a tree, then flying out to catch an insect in the air. Also takes insects from foliage or twigs while hovering, and may descend to pick insects from grass or other plants close to the ground.


Eggs

3, sometimes 2, rarely 4. Whitish, with brown and lavender blotches often concentrated toward larger end. Incubation is by female, 12-13 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Age of young at first flight about 14-18 days.


Young

Both parents feed young. Age of young at first flight about 14-18 days.

Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds almost entirely on insects and other arthropods, taking only small numbers of berries. Diet in summer includes various kinds of flies, also wasps, bees, winged ants, beetles, moths, true bugs, and grasshoppers; also some spiders and millipedes.


Nesting

Male sings in spring, especially at dawn and dusk, to defend nesting territory. Courtship behavior is not well known, may involve male actively chasing female through treetops. Nest site is in tree (usually deciduous), saddled on a horizontal branch well out from the trunk. Usually 15-45' above ground, can be lower or much higher. Nest (probably built by female alone) is compact open cup of grass, plant fibers, and spiderwebs, the outside usually decorated with lichens. Nest seems small for size of bird. From the side or below, nest may look like a bump or knot on the branch.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Strictly a summer resident in North America, arriving on breeding grounds mostly in May, very few remaining after beginning of October. Probably migrates at night.

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Migration

Strictly a summer resident in North America, arriving on breeding grounds mostly in May, very few remaining after beginning of October. Probably migrates at night.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A plaintive pee-ah-weee or pee-weee, falling in pitch on last note.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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