EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE  Contopus virensContopus virens

Eastern Wood-Pewee, a small flycatcher (dark grayish olive above and pale brown below) is very similar in appearance to its close relative the Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus). Both species forage by sallying out from a perch near the tip of a branch to catch flying insects. Because of their similarity in appearance and behavior, they were once considered conspecific, but their ranges overlap only slightly and hybridization has not been observed at these points. The two species are most easily distinguished by their different vocalizations (McCarty 1996, Bemis and Rising 1999)

DISTRIBUTION. During the 1987=1992 field work for the TBBA project volunteers found most breeding records for Eastern Wood- Pewee in the Pineywoods, Post Oak Savannah,  Blackland Prairies, Coastal Prairies, Edwards Plateau and Rolling Plains regions (as defined by Lockwood and Freeman [2004]). As the map indicates density is highest closest to the Louisiana border.

The western Edwards Plateau area, near the Pecos River is an area of overlap with the Western Wood-Pewee. Non-confirmed records from the extreme north and south of the state may indicate late migrants.

North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data from the 64 routes (40 km [25 mi] long) on which this species was detected in Texas, show the highest relative abundance to be in the Pineywoods region (3-10 pewees per route). Relative abundance decreases to 1-3 in the Post Oak Savannah and Blackland Prairies and Edwards Plateau regions and <1 in the Rolling Plains and Coastal Prairies regions (Sauer et al. 2005).

Outside Texas Eastern Wood-Pewees breed from southeast Saskatchewan across southern Canada to Nova Scotia and south between the Atlantic Coast  and the Missouri River to the Gulf Coast and northern Florida. The primary wintering ground is northern South America (McCarty 1996). from

SEASONAL OCCURRENCE. Migrant Eastern Wood-Pewees pass through Texas from about March 4 to June 12, primarily between mid-April and late May and July 3 to December 1 with most movement between early August and mid-October. The species breeds from late April to late July. Eggs have been found from May 15 to July 10 (Oberholser 1974, Lockwood and Freeman 2004).

BREEDING HABITAT. Eastern Wood- Pewees breed in Texas from near sea level to about 1100 m (3700 ft) in more open deciduous and mixed woodlands (Oberholser 1974),  The female builds the nest on a horizontal tree limb, typically far out from the trunk and 4.5-20 m (15-65 ft) above ground. It is a shallow, thick-walled cup of grasses, forb stems, plant fibers, spider silk and hair; lined with finer pieces of the same materials. The outside is covered with lichens, making the nest look like a knot. The nest is small for the size of the bird: outside diameter 7 cm (2.7 in), height and inside diameter 4.5 cm (1.8 in), cup depth 3 cm (1.2 in).

The female usually lays 3 (range 2-4) smooth- shelled, creamy white eggs with no gloss. She incubates for 12-13 days. The young leave the nest as late as 16 days after hatching  (Harrison 1979, McCarty 1996).

STATUS. Lockwood and Freeman (2004) describe Eastern Wood- Pewee as a common to uncommon and local summer resident in eastern Texas.

BBS data produce a statistically significant population trend of -5.9% for Texas. This  compares to a trend for this species total breeding range of -1.8%, both for the period 1966-2004. Declines for some other areas at the edge of Eastern Wood-Pewee’s range were also high (Canada -4.4% and Florida [95% confidence interval -12.4 to +1.6%]; Sauer et al. 2005).

The trend for Texas is disturbing, suggesting the 2004 population is about 10% of the 1966 population in this state. The magnitude of this decline is similar to that of several other areas (Canada and Florida) at the edge of the range for this species. While the population decline for the entire breeding range of this species is much lower, reassuring  the future of Eastern Wood- Pewee as a migrant through Texas, the population trend for Texas suggests that this species probably will become more and more difficult to find in breeding season, except for protected areas.

Text by Robert C. Tweit (2005)

Texas Breeding Bird Atlas map

Literature cited.

Bemis, C. and J. D. Rising. 1999. Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus). InThe birds of North America, No. 451 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Harrison, H. H. 1979. A field guide to western birds’ nests. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.

Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.

McCarty, J. P. 1996. Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens).  In The birds of North America, No. 245 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2004. Version 2005.1. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel MD (Web site, http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs).

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