My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Eastern Wood Pewee, Contopus virens

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Eastern Wood Pewee, Contopus virens

The Eastern Wood Pewee is a small tyrant flycatcher from North America. This bird and the Western Wood Pewee were formerly considered to be a single species. The two species are virtually identical in appearance, and can be distinguished most easily by their calls.

Adults are grey-olive on the upper parts with light underparts, washed with olive on the breast. They have two wing bars, and the primary remiges are long, giving the wingtip a slim and very pointed appearance. The upper part of the bill is dark, the lower part is yellowish. The songs are basically a mournful whistled pee-a’wee given in a series, which gave this bird its name, and a “we-aww” with a rising note at the end.

Their breeding habitat is deciduous, mixed woods, or pine plantations in eastern North America. These birds migrate to Central America and in the Andes region of northern South America. They feed on insects and other arthropods. Wood pewees wait on a perch at a middle height in a tree and fly out to catch prey in flight, sometimes hovering to pick it from vegetation.

Eastern Wood Pewees arrive relatively late on breeding grounds. They are rarely seen on their breeding grounds before the last days of April further south. They migrate south at a more usual time, leaving sometimes in late August but most often in September.

Eastern Wood Pewees makes an open cup nest made of grasses, bark, and lichen, attached to a horizontal tree branch with spider webs. Nest sites range in height from 15 to 60 ft (4.6 to 18 m), but average around 30 ft (9.1 m). Common nest trees used include oaks, pines, birches, and maples. The female lays almost always 3 (sometimes 2) translucent-white eggs with brown flecking concentrated towards the larger end of the ovate egg. Males are territorial and defend the nesting area aggressively, often fighting with neighboringpewees and even pursue attacks on other species (e.g., Least Flycatchers, American Robins, Chipping Sparrows, Red-eyed Vireos, etc.). Males can sometimes be polygynous, mating with two females, simultaneously.

The eggs hatch in 12–14 days and both parents bring food to the altricial nestlings. Nestlings typically fledge 15–17 days after hatching, often ending up on the ground during the first flight out of the nest. The adults will perch on a nearby branch and call out to the nestlings, keeping contact and providing them with food until the young are able to fly to join them.

On to my photos:

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

This is number 121 in my photo life list, only 229 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


13 responses

  1. Awww.. this one is so cute and some really great shots!

    August 28, 2013 at 2:47 am

    • Thank you, they are not only cute, but they are fun to watch and listen to as well.

      August 28, 2013 at 2:50 am

  2. Mona

    Lovely bird…………

    August 28, 2013 at 3:09 am

    • Thanks Mona!

      August 28, 2013 at 8:41 am

  3. I wonder if these are the birds that I see sitting in tree branches along the river, They keep darting out for insects in late afternoon / early evening and are very fast.

    August 28, 2013 at 6:21 am

    • They could be, but if I saw that happening, this species wouldn’t be my first guess. There are dozens of other candidates, any of the species of flycatchers will catch insects that way, as well as many other species. Afternoons, darting over the river from trees to catch insects, I would say cedar waxwings, but I wouldn’t say that they were fast. If the birds are there in numbers, and you hear them “trilling” they are waxwings.

      Sound is often the best way to ID birds. A Pewee and a Phoebe look almost identical, other than the color of their bill, and their size, but each has a call that sounds like their name, which is how I tell them apart in the woods. Waxwings are easily identified by their trilling whistle, and I think that they are the best candidate for the birds you see. You can go to All About Birds and listen to clips of their calls. That should tell you if they are waxwings.

      August 28, 2013 at 8:59 am

      • Thanks for the bird lesson-I sure need a few. These birds I see darting out from the trees are small and dark colored like a sparrow, but they aren’t sparrows. They don’t seem to have any bright colors but it’s hard to tell because they don’t start in until it’s almost dark. That’s why I don’t have any pictures of them. I’ll have to pay more attention to their songs next time I’m there.

        August 28, 2013 at 10:54 am

      • Hmmm. They could be a species of night bird, which I know little to nothing about, other than that they come in all sizes, and most are dark colored and very hard to spot during the day.

        August 28, 2013 at 12:23 pm

  4. This is one of my favorite birds to listen to in the woods. It’s good to see some up-close views of them. Thank you.

    August 31, 2013 at 11:18 am

    • Thank you Kathy!

      August 31, 2013 at 12:17 pm

  5. This is so timely for me, as I shot a bird today, and can’t figure out if it is a Pewee or a Acadian. The tail is forked, where your pewee here shows a flat tail. Can’t tell from the bill the difference in these images. Sigh..tried the FB Bird ID photo page and got a snotty responder.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    • I think that flycatchers are the toughest birds to ID, even worse than shorebirds. The forked, not forked tail isn’t a good way to make an ID, I see birds change the shape of their tail as they balance themselves while perched and looking around.

      I do know that my Pewees are really Pewees, as I listened first to make sure, if that’s any help. If you didn’t hear peeaaweeee now and then, your bird may not have been a Pewee.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      • Heard Pewee..but knew also an Acadian was listed there this week. No call…:-(

        September 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm