Photo Credit: Dave Cagnolatti & Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Contopus virens
DESCRIPTION: A neotropical migrant, the Eastern Wood-Pewee, is found in the family of birds Tyrannidae. These tyrant flycatchers are a very large group of birds. Adult E. Wood-Pewee’s range in size from 6 to 6.5 inches, males may be scarcely larger than females. Weights range from 1/3 to 2/3 of an ounce. Wingspan normally approaches 10 inches. Both sexes are colored a gray/olive blend above and lighter below. Two light colored wing bars are present. The base of the lower bill is most often yellow. Juveniles resemble adults but have more muted coloration. Common vocalization is a slurred “pee-ah-wee” and a melancholy “wee-ooo” or “wee-ur.”
DISTRIBUTION: The breeding range for the Wood-Pewee is the Eastern half of the United States and Southern Canada from the Great Plains East to the Atlantic, and from Texas and from Florida North into Southern Canada. Wood-Pewees overwinter in Northern parts of South America.
HABITAT: Eastern Wood-Pewees utilize a wide array of forests. In the south they are known to use hardwood and pine forests and are often found along opening in forests as well.
FEEDING HABITS: These perched birds make hawk-like flights to catch flying insects (flies, beetles, wasps, bees, etc.), which are their main food sources. Small berries have also been noted in their diet.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: More detailed information is needed on the mating habits of this species, but during courtship males will feed females. Sexual chases have also been recorded. Nests are shallow cups of grass, weeds, twigs, etc. often lined with moss, hair or plant fibers that are usually found on a horizontal limb away from the tree trunk. Clutch size ranges from 2 to 4 eggs. Females incubate the eggs for 12 to 13 days and are fed by the males during this period. Young are altricial, and are born helpless requiring parental care for a time. Nestlings are brooded for 4 to 5 days at which time both parents feed them. Young fledge around 16 to 18 days but are still cared for by the parents for an unknown time period.
Population levels have declined over time possibly due to habitat loss. Numbers may be reduced in areas of high white-tailed deer populations by over browsing plant species that make up the canopy layer preferred by this bird species.
A Field Guide to the Birds – Eastern Land and Water Birds. 1934. Roger Tory Peterson Ed. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston MA. 230pp
North Carolina WILD, WILDLIFE PROFILES. 2000. Mark Johns, Partners in Flight Coordinator, N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission.
Author: Richard Tharp, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, February 2009