Illustration: Eastern wood-pewee

Illustration by David Beadle

Map

Map: Eastern wood-pewee range

Audio

This species is extremely similar to the western wood-pewee and is best identified by range and voice. Vagrants should be identified with great care and preferably documented with recordings of vocalizations, photos, or video. Monotypic. Length 6.3" (16 cm).

Identification Adult: plumage generally dark grayish olive above with dull white throat, darker breast; whitish or pale yellow underparts. Bill has black upper mandible and dull orange lower mandible, usually with a limited black tip. Long wings extend one-third of the way down the tail. Very similar to the western wood-pewee, but spring and early summer adults are usually more olive with less extensive breast band (often produce vested appearance) and a pale smooth gray nape that contrasts slightly. The wing bars are often broader and more contrasty. Adults molt on the wintering grounds, and worn summer birds (and fall birds in North America) are essentially identical to the western wood-pewee in appearance. Juvenile: during fall separated from worn adults by fresh plumage, buff-gray wing bars, and brownish wash to the upperparts. Many have more extensive dark coloration to lower mandible and appear more like the western wood-pewee. On average, the wing bars stand out more than on the western wood-pewee, with the upper and lower wing bars the same color and prominence (unlike the western, which usually has a less noticeable upper wing bar).

Similar Species Extremely similar to the western wood-pewee and best separated by range and voice. Most often confused with the willow and the alder flycatchers. Note the willow’s and alder’s relatively short primary projection (barely reaching beyond base of tail), smaller size, bright­er wing bars, and tendency to wag its tail. wood-pewees also forage from higher prominent perches, to which they repeatedly return. Compare with the greater pewee, the olive-­sided flycatcher, and the eastern phoebe.

Voice Call: a loud, dry chip plit and clear, whistled, rising pawee notes; often given together: plit pawee. Song: a clear, slow plaintive pee-a-wee; second note is lower; often alternates with a downslurred pee-yuu.

Status and Distribution Common. Breeding: variety of woodland habitats. Migration: primarily circum-Gulf migrant. Most return mid-April (southern Texas) to mid-May (Great Lakes); remain later than the western, regularly into early October. Winter: mostly northern South America. No valid United States winter records. Vagrant: casual in West to western Texas, western Oklahoma, western Kansas, eastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, western Nebraska, western South Dakota, western North Dakota, eastern Montana, south-central Saskatchewan, New Mexico, southern Nevada, southern Arizona, southeastern Oregon, and California (9 recs., mostly fall singing birds).

Population Breeding Bird Survey shows widespread declines, particularly in central North America, but species not classified as threatened, vulnerable, or of special concern. Causes for decline unknown.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

Bird Features

  • Photo: A red bird with black wings on a branch

    Backyard Birding Central

    Want to learn more about our feathered friends of the sky? Visit our Backyard Birding site for facts, photos, videos, and more.

  • Illustration: Great horned owl

    What's That Bird?

    Identify your backyard visitors in a flash! Just answer four simple questions to search our database of 150 backyard birds common to Canada and the U.S.

See More Bird Features »

Bird News

See More Animal News »

Birds A-Z

National Geographic Magazine

  1. Photo: bowerbird mating game between female and male bowerbirds.

    Bowerbirds Gallery

    To woo a "Mary," bowerbirds decorate with shells, cans, even pink paper clips.

  2. Photo: Female whooping crane feeding her young

    Counting Cranes Gallery

    How many whooping cranes are there? Not enough. See photos of these birds in action.

From the Magazine

  1. Photo: Two adult preen, Ireland

    Gannets Pictures

    Champion divers but clumsy landers, doting parents but hostile neighbors—northern gannets abound in contradictions.

  2. Photo: Silent Ural owl

    Estonia's Ural Owls

    Photographer Sven Začek provides an intimate view of this large raptor.