Eastern Wood-Pewee

Late this morning, on a warm, sunny day, I heard the sweet whistle of an Eastern Wood-Pewee, coming from a pecan tree surrounded by tall shrubs, along a fence in a neighbor’s yard. A small, plain gray flycatcher with pale wing-bars and a slightly crested head, it perched on a dead branch of the tree and flew up several times to catch an insect, then returned to the same branch. It called several times in its shortened song, a down-slurred wheee-ooo.

The species account in Birds of North America notes, “Although still considered common in most of its range, this species declined significantly on its breeding grounds over the last 25 years, perhaps in part because of heavy browsing of forests by white-tailed deer.”*

This could help to explain why Eastern Wood-Pewees, whose song used to be a familiar part of summers in our neighborhood, have not spent summers here in the past few years – and probably why some other bird species have become much less common or are completely absent, too. A large number of white-tailed deer in woods around the neighborhood keep much of the undergrowth cleared out and significantly change the habitat.

I usually hear the song of an Eastern Wood-Pewee now only in migration – or at least, once the breeding season is over and birds have started to move – and especially in the fall, when sometimes one will stay around for several days.

*John P. McCarty. Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.) Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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