You may spot a bird like this nesting in a tree in your yard, in a local park or a natural area. The bird is medium-sized (larger than a sparrow and smaller than a robin), just plain olive-gray though may just look brownish at a distance. It flies out to catch insects in the air then more often than not returns to the same perch from which it took off. Because they eat flying insects they do not come to backyard feeders but may nest in a tree in your yard.
This is a Wood-Pewee, a member of the ‘flycatcher’ family. In the eastern half of the lower U.S. and Canada, the species is the Eastern Wood-Pewee. In the western half of the lower U.S. and western Canada reaching into Alaska the species is the Western Wood-Pewee. Though quite common in many parts of their respective ranges, they are inconspicuous so they are not as well known as other members of the flycatcher family like Eastern, Say’s and Black Phoebes.
This is the female incubating the eggs. Be assured that I did not get so close as to disturb this nesting bird as that would be most unethical and could risk nest abandonment. I have a long telephoto lens that with my dslr camera provides the equivalent of about a 900 mm lens plus I crop the photos to enlarge them further. Also note that the photo is not very bright–that is because they build their nests under the canopy of a tree that will provide shade to shelter their young in hot summer weather.
This bird was wise to place the nest above a slough that comes off a river. We have had severe drought conditions so many birds nested near water where there would be insects to feed their babies.
This is the Wood-Pewee that was sitting on the nest above. Now she is out foraging for food and taking a break from her nesting duties.
Though both the Eastern and Western Wood-Pewees look essentially the same they cannot be safely identified in the field except if the bird sings as their songs are very different. You can listen to various calls of the Eastern Wood-Pewee on the Audubon Guides website. And you can listen to the more wheezy calls of the Western Wood-Pewee here.
Wood-Pewees build their nests anchored around a sturdy limb, often in a fork of the tree. It always amazes me that birds can weave these tightly intertwined nests with their bills. Their nests are usually 15 to 60 feet above the ground so many are visible especially through binoculars. However they camouflage their nests by adding lichens to them so they blend in as though part of the tree.
Have you seen or heard either Eastern or Western Wood-Pewees?
Do they nest near where you live?