Eastern Wood-PeweeContopus virens (Linnaeus)
Status Fairly common in summer. Breeds. First spring arrivals generally occur in May (average 11 May, earliest 21 April in two years); a bird on Brier Island on 14 April 1977 (W. Lent) was abnormally early. It is widespread in summer, except along the Eastern Shore and on Cape Breton Island, where it is uncommon to rather rare. Major movements have been recorded in late August and early September, and it is routinely last seen in October (average 6 October, latest 9 November).
Description Length: 15-16.5 cm. Adults: Dark grayish or brownish olive above, darker on crown and tail; wings marked with two bars; no eye ring; underparts grayish white, darker on breast; chin white; upper mandible black, lower mandible grayish yellow.
Breeding Nest: Extremely neat and symmetrical, suggesting a larger version of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird's nest. It is a shallow affair composed of plant down, fine grasses, vegetable fibres and other soft material, with an exterior finish of bits of gray lichens attached by spider's web, apparently for camouflage. The nest appears too small for the size of the bird. It is saddled on a horizontal limb, usually of a deciduous tree,with apparent preference being shown for elm, although apple, locust and white birch are also frequently selected as nest sites,at heights of 3-12 m or more. Though the bird is often found in remote wooded areas at nesting time, a preference is shown at that season for shady, ornamental groves where elms predominate near human habitation.
Eggs: 3-4, usually 3; white to creamy white, marked with blotches of dark brown and lavender, in various degrees of density, chiefly around the larger end. Laying begins about mid-June. A set of three fresh eggs was examined on 20 June 1918 at Port Williams, Kings County, 13 m up and 4.5 m out on the limb of a large locust tree in an ornamental grove. An exceptionally late nest was found by W.A. Brown on 5 September 1945 at North Aylesford, Kings County, which contained three young about ready to leave; this was probably a second nesting attempt, the first having failed, rather than a second brood.
Range Breeds from southeastern Saskatchewan to Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton Island and, in the east, as far south as central Florida. Winters from Central America to Peru.
Remarks The bird's name is derived from a song given by both sexes, a long drawn out whistle, clear and plaintive, in two or three slurred phrases: pee-wee, or pee-ah whee with a rising inflection on the whee. Most songbirds stop singing soon after their nests contain young, as though they were too burdened with parental responsibilities to indulge in song. But this bird's song may be heard here from the time it arrives in spring until it departs in autumn.
Like other flycatchers, its food consists almost wholly of winged insects taken in the air. My notes read:
"September 4, 1949: Many Wood Pewees in my garden today. Migration is in full swing. Noticed they appear to show a preference with regard to which insects they take. Saw one that was perched near me refuse to take several insects that buzzed by at close range and then suddenly take a longer flight to snap one up."
Several of our flycatchers bear a close resemblance to one another in size, shape and plumage markings. In distinguishing them, consideration should be given to their respective habitat preferences, which are characteristically different. This bird is similar in size to the Eastern Phoebe, but that bird is an inveterate tail wagger that lacks the conspicuous white wing bars of the Eastern Wood-Pewee.
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Credits and copyright information. Last updated February 20, 1998
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