Wood-Pewees — East versus West

Image of Amanda Simard

Amanda Simard, Writing Intern

This blog was written by writing intern Amanda Simard.

This month’s calendar photo features three young Wood-Pewees sitting on a branch at Fish Creek National Park, in Calgary. The birds in the photo are Western Wood-Pewees, but Canada is home to both the Western and Eastern variety. Here is an overview of both species!

Western Wood-Pewee Description 

  • Common name: Western Wood-pewee
  • Scientific name: Contopus sordidulus
  • Habitat: Forests
  • Lifespan: Up to 7 years
  • Size: 15 cm long; weight: 14 g
  • Description: The Western wood-pewee has pale wing-bars, is olive-grey above and pale below, and has a darker wash on its breast and sides.
Eastern Wood-Pewee Description

  • Common name: Eastern Wood-pewee
  • Scientific name: Contopus virens
  • Habitat: Forests
  • Lifespan: Up to 7 years
  • Size: 15 cm long; weight: 14 g
  • Description: The Eastern wood-pewee has pale wing-bars, is olive-grey above and pale below, and has a green wash on its breast and sides.
image of a Western Wood-Pewee

Figure 1 “Western Wood-Pewee” by Eric Gropp is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Eastern Wood Pewee perching on a log against a green background.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Nesting

Both varieties of Wood-Pewees nest in trees. Their nests are made of woven grass and are covered in moss or lichen for camouflage. Their eggs are white or creamy with brown blotches.

Call

While it is difficult to visually distinguish between the pewees, the Eastern Wood-Pewee has a very distinctive “Pee-ah-wee” call.  In contrast, the Western Wood-Pewee has a harsh, burry “pee-eer” call.

Take a listen to the Eastern Wood-Pewee.

Where to find them

As their name suggest, Western Wood-Pewees are found in western Canada and the western United States. As you might expect, Eastern Wood-Pewee are found in southeastern Canada and the eastern United States. Their range intersects along a narrow strip in the Great Plains.

Conservation

Both species are common but have seen a 51% decline in their population between 1966 and 2014. As of 2012, the Eastern Wood-Pewee is listed under Special Concern according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and both species have no status under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

What you can do

You can help protect the Wood-Pewees by contributing to bird conservation efforts. Make your voice heard through your ongoing and valued support to the many conservation initiatives of Nature Canada.

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