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Western Wood-Pewee

Contopus sordidulus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TYRANNIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.

Songs

Western Wood-Pewees sing a burry and nasal sounding version of their own name, pee-wee or pee-er. This song is sung from an exposed perch and is heard throughout the day on the breeding grounds and during migration. At dawn males sing a long peee followed by two short pip pip notes, with a bit of the pee-wee song thrown in as well. Their song is much burrier and shorter than the Eastern Wood-Pewee’s song.

Calls

Males and females give a burry bzew when communicating with their mates or when defending their nests. The call has a similar quality to the pee-wee song but it has only one syllable. They repeat this call every 0.5–2 seconds.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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

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.

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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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