Eastern Wood-Pewee

Contopus virens

Early Spring Date: April 28
Late Spring Date: June 1
Best Dates to See in Spring: May 6-31
Has Nested in Park

Spring: Eastern Wood-Pewees are common spring migrants who breed in the Washington metro area. They arrive at Monticello Park in early May, and a few stay around to nest. You are most likely to encounter one between the middle of May and Memorial Day.

Fall: Because Eastern Wood-Pewees have nested in or near the park, it is difficult to know whether birds being recorded in the fall are migrants. There never are a lot of them, and they are most often encountered from mid-August through mid-September.

Where to See Them in the Park

Pewees are easy to hear but can be difficult to see. They usually stay high in leafy trees. Sometimes, they come lower and hawk insects.

Physical Description

Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Wood-Pewee - Photo by William Higgins

Pewees are drab flycatchers who are slightly larger than the flycatchers in the genus Empidonax. They also have slightly longer wings. The sexes are similar, and adult plumage looks the same in the spring and fall.

Eastern Wood-Pewee
Adult - Photo by William Higgins

Pewees have a dull brown head and back. They have two wingbars and a slight crest. The lower mandible is pale. The underparts range from gray to pale yellow.

Eastern Wood-Pewee
Adult - Photo by William Higgins

Pewees have a dark vest — a smudge on each side of the breast. Some birders get excited when they see the vest, because they think they are seeing the much-less-common Olive-sided Flycatcher, who is in the same genus.


Eastern Wood-Pewee
Adult - Photo by William Higgins

The pewee song says their name — a loud pee-a-wee. Eastern Wood-Pewees also have a variety of calls.

Hear the vocalizations of the Eastern Wood-Pewee.


Eastern Wood-Pewees winter in northern South America. They migrate through Central America and the Caribbean, and at certain periods during migration, they can be abundant in countries such as Panama. Their name comes from their song. As with the Eastern Phoebe, whose name is a pun on the name of a Greek Titan, the pewee's name is a pun on the term peewee, which is a nickname or term for people who are either young or of small stature. An Eastern Wood-Pewee is about the size of a Song Sparrow, so it is a bird of small stature.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Eastern from its range. Wood from its habitat. Pewee is imitative of its call.
Genus Name: Contopus means short foot, because they have small feet.
Species Name: Virens means greenish.

Eastern Wood-Pewee video footage

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