Birds - Wood Pewee
( Originally Published 1904 )
(Contopus vixens) Flycatcher family
Length—6.50 inches. A trifle larger than the English sparrow.
Male—Dusky brownish olive above, darkest on head ; paler on throat, lighter still underneath, and with a yellowish tinge on the dusky gray under parts. Dusky wings and tail, the wing coverts tipped with soiled white, forming two indistinct bars. Whitish eye-ring. Wings longer than tail. Female—Similar, but slightly more buff underneath.
Range—Eastern North America, from Florida to northern British provinces. Winters in Central America. Migrations—May. October. Common summer resident.
The wood pewee, like the olive-sided flycatcher, has wings decidedly longer than its tail, and it is by no means a simple matter for the novice to tell these birds apart or separate them distinctly in the mind from the other members of a family whose coloring and habits are most confusingly similar. This dusky haunter of tall shady trees has not yet learned to be sociable like the phoebe; but while it may not be so much in evidence close to our homes, it is doubtless just as common. The orchard is as near the house as it often cares to come. An old orchard, where modern insecticides are unknown and neglect allows insects to riot among the decayed bark and fallen fruit, is a happy hunting ground enough; but the bird's real preferences are decidedly for high tree-tops in the woods, where no sunshine touches the feathers on his dusky coat. It is one of the few shade-loving birds. In deep solitudes, where it surely retreats by nesting time, however neighborly it may be during the migrations, its pensive, pathetic notes, long drawn out, seem like the expression of some hidden sorrow. Pe-a-wee, pe-a-wee, pewee-ah-peer is the burden of its plaintive song, a sound as depressing as it is familiar in every walk through the woods, and the bird's most prominent characteristic.
To see the bird dashing about in his aerial chase for insects, no one would accuse him of melancholia. He keeps an eye on the "main chance," whatever his preying grief may be, and never allows it to affect his appetite. Returning to his perch after a successful sally in pursuit of the passing fly, he repeats his "sweetly solemn thought" over and over again all day long and every day throughout the summer.
The wood pewees show that devotion to each other and to their home, characteristic of their family. Both lovers work on the construction of the flat nest that is saddled on some mossy or lichen-covered limb, and so cleverly do they cover the rounded edge with bits of bark and lichen that sharp eyes only can detect where the cradle lies. Creamy-white eggs, whose larger end is wreathed with brown and lilac spots, are guarded with fierce, solicitude.
Trowbridge has celebrated this bird in a beautiful poem.