Photo: Dave McMullen/Flickr Creative Commons

Western Wood-Pewee

Contopus sordidulus

Small and plain, but often very common, this flycatcher of western woodlands is best known by its voice. Its burry, descending whistle has a hazy sound, well suited to hot summer afternoons. The bird also sings at dawn and dusk, including late in the evening when most other songbirds are quiet. This species and the Eastern Wood-Pewee look almost exactly alike; however, like some other small flycatchers, they evidently recognize their own kind primarily by voice.
Conservation status Still common to abundant in some areas, but apparently declining in parts of California and elsewhere.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Woodlands, pine-oak forests, open conifers, river groves. Breeds in a wide variety of open wooded habitats, mostly from the lowlands up to middle elevations in mountains. Favored habitats include aspen groves, pine-oak woods, and cottonwood-willow groves along streams. Winters at forest edges and in scrubby woods in the tropics.
Small and plain, but often very common, this flycatcher of western woodlands is best known by its voice. Its burry, descending whistle has a hazy sound, well suited to hot summer afternoons. The bird also sings at dawn and dusk, including late in the evening when most other songbirds are quiet. This species and the Eastern Wood-Pewee look almost exactly alike; however, like some other small flycatchers, they evidently recognize their own kind primarily by voice.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Does most foraging by watching from an exposed perch within the shady middle or lower levels of a tree, then flying out to catch an insect in the air. Also flies out and hovers while taking insects from foliage or twigs, sometimes from tall grass.


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 probably about 14-18 days.


Young

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

Diet

Insects. Feeds almost entirely on insects, mostly flying ones, only occasionally eating a few berries. Diet features various kinds of flies, also wasps, bees, winged ants, moths, beetles, and others, including a few caterpillars.


Nesting

Male sings in spring, especially at dawn and dusk, to defend nesting territory. Courtship behavior is not well known, may involve active chasing through treetops. Nest site is in tree (perhaps more often deciduous than coniferous), usually on a horizontal branch well out from the trunk. Usually 15-40' above ground, can be lower or much higher. Nest (probably built by female) is flat open cup of grass, plant fibers, plant down, the outside decorated with gray mosses, leaves, and sometimes lichens. From the side or below, nest may look like a bump or knot on the branch. Some observers report that nest of Western is typically larger than that of Eastern Wood-Pewee.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Strictly a summer resident in North America, arriving mostly late April and May, departing before mid-October. Probably migrates at night.

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

Strictly a summer resident in North America, arriving mostly late April and May, departing before mid-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 harsh nasal pee-eeer, very different from the sweet peee-ah weee of the Eastern Wood-Pewee.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Tyrant Flycatchers Perching Birds

Western Wood-Pewee

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
Zoom InOut

Explore Similar Birds