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Eastern Wood-Pewee Life History


ForestsUsually found in clearings and forest edges, Eastern Wood-Pewees breed in nearly any type of wooded habitat in the eastern United States and southeastern Canada—including mature woodlands, urban shade trees, roadsides, woodlots, and orchards. They prefer deciduous forest but also live in open pine woodlands of the south and mixed hardwood-conifer forest of the north. Although they usually avoid streams in eastern forests, they often nest in riverside habitat in the Great Plains. During spring and fall migration, Eastern Wood-Pewees stop in a variety of habitats with trees and shrubs, including edges, clearings, primary forest, and secondary forest. They spend the winter in wooded, partially cleared, and shrubby habitats of northern South America and possibly Central America, usually below 4,300 feet of elevation.Back to top


InsectsThe Eastern Wood-Pewee captures small flying insects by sallying out from a dead branch partway up in the canopy. According to one study, they make an average of 36 sallies per hour in the nonbreeding season and almost twice as many—68 sallies per hour—when feeding its young. It may also glean insects from foliage or the ground, sometimes taking advantage of locally abundant prey during insect emergences. Its diet includes flies, bugs, butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, stoneflies, and mayflies. The pewee also eats small amounts of vegetable matter, including the berries and seeds of dogwood, blueberry, raspberry, and poison ivy.Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeEastern Wood-Pewees nest in trees and saplings such as elms, oaks, maples, birches. The nest is usually 15–70 feet off the ground.

Nest Description

The nest is a small cup made of woven grass—or sometimes weeds, wool, bark strips, twigs, roots, mosses, pine needles, or leaves—covered with lichens that provide superb camouflage. It measures 3 inches across and 1-2 inches high. The inner cup, which is lined with hair, grass, moss, lichens, and plant fibers, measures 2 inches across and 0.5–1 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-4 eggs
Egg Length:0.7-0.8 in (1.7-2.1 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.3-1.4 cm)
Incubation Period:12-14 days
Nestling Period:16-18 days
Egg Description:White or creamy with a wreath of brown or purple speckles.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless, with sparse down feathers and closed eyes.
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FlycatchingEastern Wood-Pewees are territorial during the breeding season, holding territories that range from about 5-20 acres in size. The male changes his singing patterns in response to other males. He also attacks other species that approach while he is singing, although his territory may overlap with those of Great Crested Flycatchers and Least Flycatchers. Pewees appear to be monogamous; the female incubates the brood while the male brings food. They are solitary during migration and on the wintering grounds.Back to top


Low Concern

Eastern Wood-Pewee is a fairly common bird, but across its range populations declined by approximately 1% per year for a cumulative decline of about 44% between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 6.5 million and rates them 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. One reason for their decline may be the high northeastern populations of white-tailed deer, whose browsing may cause changes to the intermediate canopy where pewees forage. Pewees are tolerant of forest fragmentation since they live in both edge habitat and forest interiors.

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Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

McCarty, John P. (1996). Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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