Contopus sordidulus are found in western North America, starting in east central Alaska, to northwestern Minnesota, all the way south into southern Baja. In the fall they leave the northern area and head towards the south. During the winter, they can be found migrating even further south to Panama.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic ; neotropical
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Breeding range extends from east-central Alaska, southern Yukon, central Mackenzie, central Saskatchewan, and central Manitoba south through western Canada (east to Manitoba) and western United States to southern Baja California and interior highlands of Mexico and Guatemala to Honduras, possibly to northern Nicaragua and Costa Rica (Bemis and Rising 1999). Nonbreeding range extends from Colombia and Venezuela south to Peru and Bolivia, casually northward to Costa Rica (Stiles and Skutch 1989, Bemis and Rising 1999).
Tail: 7-7.62 cm
Western wood-pewees have angular heads with moderate crests. Their flanks and sides are dark brown with blurry streaks that go toward the lower sides. Their tertials are distinctly fringed and are more obvious than their wing bars. Western wood-pewees' tails are short relative to their body proportions. They have long upper tail coverts which reach the midway point of the primary extensions, which are known to be long. Their bills are mostly dark, the lower mandibles are about 50% darker than the unpper mandibles. Their breasts have an olive look. Also, the throats have a whitish color which continues on their bellies and under their tails.
There are differences between the adult and the juvenile plumage. The adult has more of a grayish throat whereas the juvenile has a dull color. Also the wing bars are not as vibrant on juveniles as they are on adult C. sordidulus.
Average mass: 13 g.
Range length: 133.35 to 165.1 mm.
Range wingspan: 82.55 to 88.9 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Length: 16 cm
Weight: 13 grams
In the summer, C. sordidulus are found in evergreen forests, woodlands, coniferous forests, and also open and closed canopy forests. In the winter they can also be found in agricultural fields, meadows, grasslands, and thickets. In general, western wood-pewees prefer dry environments.
Western wood-pewees are seen close to land but are usually found in tall treetops. They build nests at the end of tree branches. The limbs can either be dead or alive, the birds have no known preference. Usually the branches are at least 5-12 meters above the ground. The nests are weaved out of fiber, grasses, lichens, spider webs, and shredded bark and are shaped like shallow cups. The blending of the color and the shape to the tree allows them to go practically unnoticed resembling stubs on the branches.
Habitat Regions: temperate
Terrestrial Biomes: forest
Aquatic Biomes: rivers and streams
Other Habitat Features: riparian
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Habitat includes forest, forest edge, and woodland, especially coniferous or mixed coniferous-deciduous forest, and poplar or riparian woodland (Subtropical and Temperate zones, in nonbreeding season also Tropical Zone) (AOU 1983). Nests usually are on horizontal branches of living or dead trees, 4-23 meters above ground, sometimes in the fork of a small tree or bush.
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Western wood-pewees arrive in nesting areas in the contiguous United States, Canada, and Alaska in April-May (Terres 1980). Migration through Costa Rica occurs in late March-late May (perhaps early June) and late July or early August to mid-November (Stiles and Skutch 1989). In Colombia, the species is believed to be a common transient and winter resident, mid-August to mid-May (Hilty and Brown 1986).
The majority of the time, C. sordidulus feed on insects such as flies, wasps, bees, ants, beetles, moths, and butterflies. On other occasions they eat dragonflies, termites, and spiders. All the insects are caught in the air. Contopus sordidulus hunt from the perch and capture prey by twisting very quickly in the air. Immediately after catching a prey item, they return to the perch.
Animal Foods: insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore , Eats non-insect arthropods)
Comments: This flycatcher sallies out from an open perch and catches insects in the air. It feeds on a wide variety of insects, including: bees, wasps, ants, and flies.
Contopus sordidulus provide food for blue jays as well as other predators. Western wood-pewees also prey on various insects and spiders.
Blue jays are nest predators on this species. They will feed on the young in the nest. Hawks are also predators of C. sordidulus. The nest is made up of colors that will allow it to look like a stump on the tree. Camouflage is their way of avoiding predation.
- blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata)
- hawks (Accipitridae)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Comments: This species is represented by a large number of occurrences (subpopulations).
Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but presumably exceeds 1,000,000. Rich et al. (2004) estimated global population size at 9,700,000.
Life History and Behavior
Contopus sordidulus are very hard to differentiate from other birds in their family, such as eastern wood-pewees. But the one thing that does stand out is their communication calls. Eastern wood-pewees have a nasal whistle that sounds like "DREE-yurr" or "breerrr". It sounds very rough. Western wood-pewees sound a bit different, like a plain, sneezy, "brrrt". During breeding a sound is sent out as "tswee-tee-teet".
Communication Channels: acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Although information on the exact life expectancy of C. sordidulus is unavailable, eastern wood-pewees, which are very similar to western wood-pewee groups, have a life expectancy of about 7 years.
Status: wild: 7 years.
Status: wild: 97 months.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Mating begins in early May but the prime time is around June. The male sings to defend a nesting territory and also uses the songs to attract a mate. The male then takes over a woodland territory that is about 2-6 acres. They are seasonally monogamous.
Mating System: monogamous
The female usually lays 2-4 eggs. When the young are born, the incubation time lasts for about 12 days. By the 7th day, the young have developed all their feathers. The fledging process lasts about 14-18 days and then they leave the nest within the 3 days of fledging.
Breeding interval: Western wood pewee birds breed once a year
Breeding season: Breeding occurs May to mid July.
Range eggs per season: 2 to 4.
Range fledging age: 14 to 18 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
The young are tended by both parents, but the female is usually at the nest the most during the first 4 days. The young are fed insects.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning, Protecting: Male, Female)
Breeding begins in early May in the south, to early June in the north (Harrison 1978). Female incubates 3, sometimes 2-4, eggs for about 12 days.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Contopus sordidulus
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Contopus sordidulus
Public Records: 11
Specimens with Barcodes: 13
Species With Barcodes: 1
Contopus sordidulus are abundant, but according to the Breeding Bird Survey, there is an increase in Washington but a decrease in British Colombia and Oregon. The decrease could be due to the loss of habitat on breeding grounds and winter grounds.
US Migratory Bird Act: protected
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Large breeding range mainly in western North America; large population size; relatively stable trend; no major threats.
Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable (=10% change)
Comments: Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data for 1980-2007 indicate a nonsignificant survey-wide decline of 0.7 percent per year.
Global Long Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 50%
Comments: Long-term trend in population size over the past 200 years in unknown. Nesting range has not changed to any large degree over the past 200 years (see Bemis and Rising 1999 for some localized changes).
Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data for 1966-2003 show large regions of decline mainly in the northern, westerm and southern parts of the U.S. and Canadian distribution, and areas of abundance increase mostly in the interior regions and part of the Pacific Northwest.
BBS data for 1966-2007 indicate a significant survey-wide decline averaging 0.9 percent annually; this amounts to a 31 percent decline over this time period. However, abundance (number of birds per route) declined from around 3.1-3.8 in the 1960s and 1970s to 2.6-2.8 in 2000-2007, so the decline was only around 1 bird per route.
Degree of Threat: Low
Comments: Certainly habitat loss and degradation has negatively affected local populations, but overall this species does not appear to face any major threats.
Global Protection: Very many (>40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed
Comments: Many occurrences are in protected areas.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Western wood-pewees have no known negative affects on humans.
Songbirds such as western wood-pewees, are important to birdwatchers. In addition, as generalist insectivores, they may affect pest populations.
Positive Impacts: ecotourism ; controls pest population
Western wood pewee
The western wood pewee (Contopus sordidulus) is a small tyrant flycatcher. Adults are gray-olive on the upperparts with light underparts, washed with olive on the breast. They have two wing bars and a dark bill with yellow at the base of the lower mandible. This bird is very similar in appearance to the eastern wood pewee; the two birds were formerly considered to be one species. The call of C. sordidulus is a loud buzzy peeer; the song consists of three rapid descending tsees ending with a descending peeer.
Habitat and ecology
Their breeding habitat is open wooded areas in western North America. These birds migrate to South America at the end of summer. The female lays two or three eggs in an open cup nest on a horizontal tree branch or within a tree cavity; California black oak forests are examples of suitable nesting habitat for this species of bird. Both parents feed the young.
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Western Wood-pewee Species Account
- C. Michael Hogan (2008) Quercus kelloggii, Globaltwitcher.com, ed. N. Stromberg
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: This species previously was named C. richardsoni (AOU 1998). It has been considered conspecific with C. virens by some authors (AOU 1983). Contopus sordidulus, C. virens, and C. cinereus constitute a superspecies (AOU 1998).