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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Western Wood-Pewee

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Western Wood-Pewee

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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