At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Perching Birds, Tyrant Flycatchers
Arroyos and Canyons, Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Alaska and The North, California, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Strictly a summer resident in North America, arriving mostly late April and May, departing before mid-October. Probably migrates at night.
6 1/2" (17 cm). Confusingly plain, with faint wing-bars, no eye-ring. Most Empidonax flycatchers have eye-rings, but see Willow Flycatcher, which has shorter wingtips. Eastern Wood-Pewee averages slightly paler but most safely identified by range, voice.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Songs and Calls
A harsh nasal pee-eeer, very different from the sweet peee-ah weee of the Eastern Wood-Pewee.
Falling, Flat, Rising
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Scream, Whistle
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.
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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.
Both parents feed young. Age of young at first flight probably about 14-18 days.
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.
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.
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.
Still common to abundant in some areas, but apparently declining in parts of California and elsewhere.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Western Wood-Pewee. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
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.