Bird Database

Eastern Wood-Pewee

(Contopus virens)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Long distance




Habitat loss and fragmentation

Conservation Actions

Maintain unfragmented forest blocks

Eastern Wood-Pewee

(Contopus virens)

The Eastern Wood-Pewee, or at least its eponymous song, is a pervasive feature of New Hampshire’s deciduous and mixed forests from May through September. It can be quite common in suitable habitat, and unlike many forest birds will continue singing both later in the day and later in the season. Singing birds are often obscured by leaves and not easy to see, and when seen resemble any number of other small olive-gray flycatchers. Pewees differ from the slightly smaller Empidonax flycatchers by lacking an eye ring, and from the browner (and tail wagging) Eastern Phoebe by possessing wingbars. Most of these other species are not likely in forests, but identification can still be a challenge for beginners.

Although a forest species, the Eastern Wood-Pewee tends to occur near edges or clearings, thus overlapping most with the smaller Least Flycatcher in habitat preference. Their nest is a compact cup placed on a horizontal branch, usually over 20 feet up. It is held together by spider webs and covered in lichens, and to the casual observer looks very much like a natural knob on the branch. Here the female will lay and incubate three eggs for two weeks. The young leave the nest 14-18 days later and continue to be fed by their parents for another 3-4 weeks. Sometimes pewees attempt a second nest, in which cases the male is likely to take on most parental duties once the female begins laying eggs.

Although common, the Eastern Wood-Pewee is another declining forest bird in most of the Northeast. Populations in the early 21st century were almost half those of the 1960s, although in many areas the decline appears to have leveled off. Causes of the decline are unclear but may include overall habitat loss or structural changes in forests resulting from deer overpopulation. Declines are still noticeable in New Hampshire even though the state’s deer population hasn’t risen to the point where it’s impacting forests. Pewees are increasing at the western edge of their range on the Great Plains, perhaps because of spreading forest cover along river valleys. 

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Eastern Wood-Pewee
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count