• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Contopus virens ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TYRANNIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The olive-brown Eastern Wood-Pewee is inconspicuous until it opens its bill and gives its unmistakable slurred call: pee-a-wee!—a characteristic sound of Eastern summers. These small flycatchers perch on dead branches in the mid-canopy and sally out after flying insects. Though identifying flycatchers can be confusing, pewees are grayer overall, with longer wings, than other flycatchers. They lack the eyerings of the Empidonax species, while they’re less brown (with stronger wingbars) than a phoebe. With a careful look they’re quite distinctive.

Birds of North America Online
Learn About Celebrate Urban Birds!

Keys to identification Help

Flycatchers
Flycatchers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Eastern Wood-Pewees are medium-sized flycatchers with long wings and tails. Like other pewee species, they have short legs, upright posture, and a peaked crown that tends to give the head a triangular shape. Their long wings are an important clue to separate them from Empidonax flycatcher species.

  • Color Pattern

    Eastern Wood-Pewees are olive-gray birds with dark wings, and little to no yellow on the underparts. The sides of the breast are dark with an off-white throat and belly, giving a vested appearance typical of pewees. They show little or no eyering. Adults have thin, white wingbars; those of juveniles are buffy. The underside of the bill is mostly yellow-orange, except in some juveniles.

  • Behavior

    Eastern Wood-Pewees are sit-and-wait predators that sally out from arboreal perches after insects and return to the same or a nearby perch. Like other members of their genus, they often perch high in trees, generally in fairly exposed places providing good viewpoints.

  • Habitat

    Eastern Wood-Pewees are most common in deciduous forest and woodland, but you may find them in nearly any forested habitat, even smaller woodlots, for breeding as long as it is fairly open. As migrants, these pewees can occur in nearly any woodlot or other treed area.

Range Map Help

Eastern Wood-Pewee Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  •  

    Eastern Wood-Pewee

     
    • Medium-sized flycatcher
    • Drab olive-gray above, paler below
    • Pale wing-bars
    • Short crest at rear of crown
    • © Kelly Azar, Chester County, Pennsylvania, July 2012
  •  

    Eastern Wood-Pewee

     
    • Medium-sized, slender-bodied flycatcher
    • Olive-gray above, pale below
    • Darker flanks give "vested" appearance
    • Whitish wing-bars
    • © Carlos Escamilla, Laredo, Texas, September 2012
  •  

    Eastern Wood-Pewee

     
    • Slender-bodied with long, pointed wings
    • Slight crest at rear of crown
    • Paler whitish yellow belly contrasts with darker flanks and olive/gray upperparts
    • © Dawn Vornholt, Piedmont NWR, Georgia, May 2010

Similar Species

Similar Species

The Western Wood-Pewee is extremely similar to the Eastern Wood-Pewee in shape and plumage. Fortunately, their breeding ranges have nearly no overlap, and their voices are easy to tell apart. If you find a silent pewee outside of its normal range, it’s probably best left unidentified. Western Wood-Pewees tend to be darker throughout, but the ranges of variation of the two species overlap. The Western’s throat tends to be the same color as the sides whereas the Eastern’s is paler. The Western’s wings are dull black with grayish wingbars (in adults), thus reducing the amount of contrast within the wing typical of Eastern Wood-Pewee. Western Wood-Pewees tend to have nearly entirely dark bills. The Olive-sided Flycatcher is larger, with a larger head and a thicker and longer bill. The species has dusky wings and vague buffy wing bars giving the appearance of an even-colored wing. It also has darker sides than those of Eastern Wood-Pewee, with even darker streaking within, all contrasting much more strongly with the whitish running down the middle of the underparts. The tail of Olive-sided Flycatcher is comparatively shorter than the Eastern Wood-Pewee’s, and the wings are even longer. The shorter tail and bigger head gives Olive-sided Flycatcher a top-heavy appearance different from the sleeker look of Eastern Wood-Pewee. Of the Empidonax flycatchers, Willow Flycatchers are the most similar to Eastern Wood-Pewees because they too sport little or no eyering. However, they have greener heads and upperparts, pale sides, and wider and whiter wing bars, at least in adults. Acadian Flycatchers usually have obvious white eyerings and, in fresh autumn plumage, a yellow-tinged belly. Eastern Phoebes have darker brown upperparts, without wingbars. Their underparts tend to be cleaner white, without a vested look. The bill is narrower and mostly dark. Phoebes habitually bob their tails while they perch.

Backyard Tips

Like other flycatchers, pewees usually don’t come to feeders. They may visit wooded backyards or property adjacent to patches of forests or woodlands.

Find This Bird

The Eastern Wood-Pewee’s plaintive song of three sliding notes (pee-a-weeeee) is distinctive and easy to learn. It makes finding these woodland birds fairly straightforward. It helps that male Eastern Wood-Pewees are inveterate singers, belting out song nearly throughout the day. Look for small, olive-colored birds making sallies and watch such birds until they perch; Eastern Wood-Pewees pause frequently after sallying, which usually enables you to study them well.