It has not rained in Big Valley for several months and for over a month temperatures have been unusually high – a stressful time for all flora and fauna, including humans. Recently Leonard and I noticed birds in our yard that do not frequent the type of habitat we have around the house. Although these species are in the area, we never see them close to the house. Odd! We speculate that perhaps the extreme weather has forced them closer to civilization in search of food, or more likely water. Currently western wood-pewees (Contopus sordidulus) are unexpected visitors. This little bird came onto our deck (Modoc County CA) and spent many minutes sitting on the back of a chair. This is the first time either Leonard or I remember a wood-pewee near the house.
A medium-sized flycatcher, the western wood-pewee can be found in open forests, forest edges and riparian zones throughout western North America during the summer breeding season. The mature tropical forests of northwestern South America provide a winter haven. There is also an eastern wood-pewee that looks almost exactly like its western cousin. They overlap in a narrow area of the Great Plains. However, no evidence exists that the two species interbreed. Range and voice best separate these two pewees in the field.
A drab bird, the western wood-pewee is grayish above with darker wings and tail. It is paler gray below with a dark wash on the breast and sides. A lighter band bisects the breast. This pewee has white bars on the wings and no eyering. The upper mandible is dark and the lower mandible usually shows some dull orange coloration near the base. This is not one of the more flashy birds.
As a member of the flycatchers, the western wood-pewee eats flying insects, especially ants, flies, bees, wasps, beetles and moths. These birds will perch mid-height in the understory waiting for an unsuspecting insect. They sally out to grab the prey insect and then return to the same perch.
It is nice to have this rare visitor in our yard. I hope this western wood-pewee accepts our hospitality a little longer.