Back to the Species at Risk main page.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Contopus virens

COSEWIC Status: Special Concern

COSSARO Status: Special Concern

Eastern Wood Pewee perching on a log.


  • The eastern wood-pewee is a medium-sized flycatcher growing to about 15 cm long.
  • Like all pewees, they stand notably upright; have short legs, and a crown which gives their head a triangular appearance.
  • Long wings and tails characterize them from other similar species.
  • Adult males and females are similar in appearance with greyish-olive on their upper body, pale colouration on their throat and belly, and thin, pale bars on their wings.
  • The underside of the bill is mostly yellow-orange, with the exception of some juveniles.
  • Largely an inconspicuous bird, the eastern wood-pewee will grab your attention when it opens its bill and gives its unmistakable slurred call: pee-a-wee!


  • Mostly small, flying insects and therefore will seldom visit bird feeders.
  • When multiple species of flycatchers (birds that eat flying insects) live in the same forest, they each find their niche. The eastern wood-pewee tends to forage higher in the trees than some flycatchers, but lower than others.
  • Its diet includes flies, bugs, butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, stoneflies, and mayflies.
  • The pewee also eats small amounts of vegetable matter, including the berries and seeds of dogwood, blueberry, raspberry, and poison ivy.

Habits and Reproduction

  • The eastern wood-pewee lays 2-4 white or cream coloured eggs in a small nest made from wool, bark strips, twigs, roots, mosses, pine needles, or leaves which are covered with lichen.
  • Nests are so well camouflaged they often look like a knot on a branch.
  • The breeding ranges of the eastern and western wood-pewee overlap in a small region in the American Great Plains, but the two species do not appear to interbreed.


  • Often found perched on dead branches in the mid-canopy where it searches for flying insects.
  • Lives beside forest clearings and edges of deciduous and mixed forests. It is most abundant in intermediate-age mature forest stands with little understory vegetation.


  • The eastern wood-pewee has experienced population declines over the past 40 years in Canada and the United States.
  • Contributing factors to the population declines of the eastern wood-pewee may include:
    • habitat loss and degrading due to urban development and/or changes in forest management
    • reductions in the availability of their food source (flying insects)
    • loss of eggs and fledglings due to increasing populations of predator species (ex. blue jays, red squirrels)
    • changes to forest composition from white-tailed deer over-browsing, which may reduce the number of insects available to eat
    • other threats during migration and in their wintering habitat in South America

Conservation Actions

  • Shade grown coffee presents a tremendous opportunity for both conservation and economic gain for South American farmers. Coffee grown under the forest canopy can provide our migratory birds with a safe refuge. Please purchase shade grown, preferably organic coffee.
  • Choose Forest Stewardship Council certified (FSC) wood products.
  • If possible, leave dead wood standing on your property to attract insects.

Range Map