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Bird of the Week: Eastern Wood-Pewee

Visiting a thick-canopied forest during the dog days of summer can feel like entering a bird desert… until you hear the cheery, languid pee-a-wee of the eastern wood-pewee.  While many summertime birds are high up in the canopy and out of sight or quietly slipping through the grassy fields and forest edges during these hot days, the wood-pewee prefers the shady woodlands, finding a perfect perch mid-way up a tree.  And unlike most summertime birds, which seem to save their energy for finding food rather than singing, the wood-pewee will sing from this bare branch over and over and over, filling the forest space with its wonderful bird-song rendition of its own name.  The eastern wood-pewee is a flycatcher, and it does this with gusto as well, flitting out from its branch to snatch insects out of the air, then returning to its perch to fill the woods with more song.  When it comes to identification, flycatchers can be a confusing lot. The eastern wood-pewee is a small, inconspicuous olive brown bird with a whiteish belly, but it lacks the white eye ring common to many of the Empidonax flycatchers. Its white wing bars are more distinct that those of the eastern phoebe, a similar sized and shaped eastern flycatcher.  If the flycatcher you’re investigating bobs its tail before sallying forth from its perch, you know it’s definitely a phoebe, not a pewee.  But if its wings seem a little extra-long for its small size, and if it fills the shady woodland with a summertime-slow and liquid pee-a-wee, pee-urrr, you know you’re in the neighborhood of one of our favorite flycatchers, the eastern wood-pewee.


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