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Eastern Wood-Pewee
Contopus virens
– Family
Authors: McCarty, John P.

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Adult Eastern Wood-Pewee; Bettendorf, Iowa 6/22/05
Figure 1. Distribution of the Eastern Wood-Pewee.

This small, generally inconspicuous flycatcher is best known for its tireless hawking flights after insects and for its plaintive Pee-ah-wee song heard through much of the summer in wooded habitats of the eastern U.S. and Canada. This species spends much of its time high in the canopy and builds a small nest 5–20 m above the ground. The parents cover the woven grass cup with lichens, building an inconspicuous nest that is very much like a knot on the top of the supporting branch. As a result of its inaccessible and cryptic nest, much of this widespread species’ reproductive biology remains unknown.

One of the last spring migrants to return from its wintering range in South America, the Eastern Wood-Pewee breeds in virtually every type of wooded habitat in the east, from urban shade trees, roadsides, woodlots, and orchards to mature forest. Although it generally inhabits eastern deciduous forest, it also breeds in open pine woodlands (especially in the South), riparian zones of the Great Plains, and mixed hardwood-conifer forest of the North.

Although still considered common in most of its range, this species declined significantly on its breeding grounds over the last 25 years, perhaps in part because of heavy browsing of forests by white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

Formerly considered conspecific with the Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus), these two species can be separated by their distinctive songs. Although the breeding ranges of these species overlap in a narrow zone in the Great Plains, hybridization between the two species has not been reported.