Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Greater Pewee

Contopus pertinax

In mountain forests of Arizona (and locally in western New Mexico), this chunky flycatcher is fairly common in summer. It is often seen perched on a dead twig high in a pine, watching for flying insects. In color and markings, the Greater Pewee is as plain as a bird can be; but it has a beautifully clear, whistled song, ho-say, ma-re-ah, giving rise to its Mexican nickname of "Jose Maria."
Conservation status Numbers in the United States apparently stable.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Pine and pine-oak forests of mountains, canyons. Breeds in relatively open forest with tall pines and scattered understory (often of oaks). Also in sycamores and other trees along canyons through pine-oak woods. The few that winter in the United States are in groves or woodlots in the lowlands.
In mountain forests of Arizona (and locally in western New Mexico), this chunky flycatcher is fairly common in summer. It is often seen perched on a dead twig high in a pine, watching for flying insects. In color and markings, the Greater Pewee is as plain as a bird can be; but it has a beautifully clear, whistled song, ho-say, ma-re-ah, giving rise to its Mexican nickname of "Jose Maria."
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by watching from a perch within a tree, especially an open tree such as a pine, choosing perches at most levels but usually fairly high. Flies out to capture flying insects in mid-air. Apparently has very good eyesight, sometimes flying out after insects up to 50' away from its perch.


Eggs

3-4. Dull white to creamy-white, lightly marked with brown and gray, mostly near larger end. Details of incubation not well known. Young: Probably fed by both parents. Age of young at first flight not well known.


Young

Probably fed by both parents. Age of young at first flight not well known.

Diet

Insects. Diet is not known in detail, undoubtedly includes a wide variety of flying insects.


Nesting

Breeding behavior is not well known. Both members of pair are quick to attack jays or other potential nest predators that come near nest tree. Some observers have reported that smaller birds (such as warblers and vireos) prefer to nest near the Greater Pewee to gain protection from predators. Nest site is at fork in horizontal branch of pine, sycamore, oak, or other tall tree, usually 10-40' above the ground. Nest (probably built by female) is a well-built cup of grass, weeds, leaves, and other plant fibers, often held to the branch with spiderwebs. Inside of nest is lined with fine grasses, and outside is camouflaged with lichens. From the ground, nest may look like a lichen-covered bump on the branch.

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

Migration

Probably only a short-distance migrant; present all year in most of Mexican range. One or two individuals often remain through winter in Arizona and sometimes in southern California.

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Migration

Probably only a short-distance migrant; present all year in most of Mexican range. One or two individuals often remain through winter in Arizona and sometimes in southern California.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Song is a plaintive Jo-se-Ma-ri-a. Call note a repeated pwit.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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