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Western Wood-Pewee Life History


Open WoodlandsWestern Wood-Pewees breed in open woodlands, forest edges, and forests near streams, from sea level to around 10,000 feet elevation. They commonly use forests with larger trees, open understories, and standing dead trees. They also use recently burned forests, as fires often increase the numbers of standing dead trees. Forests may include cottonwood, aspen, ponderosa pine, pinyon pine, and spruce. During migration they use similar types of forests. In winter, they occur in mature tropical forests, second-growth forests, and clearings from the foothills to higher montane forests. Back to top


InsectsThis flycatcher eats flying ants, bees, crane flies, mayflies, dragonflies, wasps, beetles, and moths. They sit on prominent perches often at the end of a dead branch for long periods waiting for an insect to fly by. They eat most smaller insects in midair, but bring back larger insects to their perch before eating them. Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeThe male and female follow each other around trying out nest sites by squatting and turning around on branches while calling to each other. Most often they choose a fork in a horizontal branch away from the trunk of a live or dead tree. They nest in cottonwood, aspen, pinyon pine, walnut, sycamore, and other tree species anywhere from near ground level to more than 80 feet above the ground.

Nest Description

The female builds a dense and compact nest out of grasses, plant fibers, bark, and plant down. She uses spiderweb to bind the nesting material together and camouflages the outside of the nest with mosses, bud scales, and insect skins. She lines the inside with fine grasses and feathers. It takes her anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks to complete the nest, which measures about 3 inches wide and 2.5 inches tall.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-4 eggs
Egg Length:0.7-0.8 in (1.7-1.9 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.3-1.4 cm)
Incubation Period:14-15 days
Nestling Period:14-18 days
Egg Description:Creamy white with brown blotches.
Condition at Hatching:Naked with a small amount of whitish down.
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FlycatchingWestern Wood-Pewees are sit-and-wait predators. They perch on exposed branches to wait for an insect to fly by. When they spot one, they fly out, grab it, and return to the same or a nearby perch. Most often they fly out horizontally, going out around 12 feet from their perch, but they also sally upward and occasionally downward to catch prey. During the breeding season, they form monogamous pairs and keep a close eye on their nests. The female stays alert when she is sitting on the nest and the male often perches nearby. After the eggs hatch the female often stands on the rim of the nest to shade the young while keeping an eye out for predators. If an intruder such as a western gray squirrel or a scrub-jay comes near, they chase or attack it while calling and snapping their bill. Males and females stay close to each other during the breeding season, but they are solitary during migration and on the wintering grounds. Back to top


Common Bird in Steep DeclineWestern Wood-Pewee are common, but their numbers declined by over 1% per year between 1966 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of 48%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 9.2 million, with 59% breeding in the United States, 29% in Canada, and 12% in Mexico. The species rates an 11 out of 20 on the Partners in Flight Continental Concern Score and is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. Western Wood-Pewees appear sensitive to logging that occurs after forest fires on their breeding grounds, and to habitat loss of tropical forests on their wintering grounds.Back to top


Bemis, Carrie and James D. Rising. (1999). Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Cahall, R. E., and J. P. Hayes (2009). Influences of postfire salvage logging on forest birds in the Eastern Cascades, Oregon, USA. Forest Ecology and Management 257:1119-1128.

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

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

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. 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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