Living Bird Magazine
Western Wood-PeweeContopus sordidulus
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Tyrannidae
Open woodlands throughout the West come alive when Western Wood-Pewees return for the summer. These grayish brown flycatchers use exposed branches as their stage; they put on quite a good show, sallying back and forth while nabbing flying insects with stunning precision. They sit tall when perched, showing off their partially buttoned gray vest while singing a burry and nasal version of their name all summer long. They look nearly identical to their eastern cousin, the Eastern Wood-Pewee, but they sing a burrier song.More ID Info
Find This Bird
A quick listen in almost any forest patch should reveal the burry, slightly descending peeer of a Western Wood-Pewee throughout the spring and summer months. To find out where the song is coming from, look up into the canopy and pay special attention to bare branches where this small, upright flycatcher often perches. Unless they’re silhouetted against the sky, their gray bodies tend to blend into the branches. Watch for one to sally out and back on a quick flight to chase down an insect. Use its habit of returning to the same perch to your advantage to focus in on the Western Wood-Pewee as it returns to its perch.
- Pibí Occidental (Spanish)
- Pioui de l'Ouest (French)
Like other flycatchers, pewees usually don’t come to feeders. They may visit wooded backyards or property adjacent to patches of forests or woodlands.
- Cool Facts
- The breeding ranges of the nearly identical Eastern and Western Wood-Pewees overlap only in a very narrow zone in the Great Plains. Despite the birds’ physical similarity, no evidence has ever been found that the two species interbreed in that area—perhaps because their songs sound so different.
- Where exactly the Western Wood-Pewee goes in the winter is still a mystery. Both Eastern and Western Wood-Pewees migrate to northern South America, but because they look so similar and they don't call much on the wintering ground it's hard to say for certain where each species spends its winter.
- The scientific name of the Western Wood-Pewee is Contopus sordidulus. Contopus comes from the Greek word kontos which means short and pous which means foot—referring to the relatively short legs on Contopus flycatchers. Sordidulus means dirty or unkempt, a reference to the dusky brown wash to the breast and flanks.
- The Western Wood-Pewee makes a clapping noise with its bill while chasing and attacking intruders in nest defense.
- The oldest recorded Western Wood-Pewee was a female, and at least 8 years, 1 month old when she was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in California in 2002. She had been banded in the same state in 1995.