This species is extremely similar to the western wood pewee and is best identified by range and voice. Vagrants should be identified with great care and preferably documented with recordings of vocalizations, photos, or video. Monotypic. Length 6.3".
Adult: plumage generally dark grayish olive above with dull white throat, darker breast; whitish or pale yellow underparts. Bill has black upper mandible and dull orange lower mandible, usually with a limited black tip. Long wings extend one-third of the way down the tail. Very similar to the western wood pewee, but spring and early summer adults are usually more olive with less extensive breast band (often produce vested appearance) and a pale smooth gray nape that contrasts slightly. The wing bars are often broader and more contrasty. Adults molt on the wintering grounds, and worn summer birds (and fall birds in North America) are essentially identical to the western wood pewee in appearance. Juvenile: during fall separated from worn adults by fresh plumage, buff-gray wing bars, and brownish wash to the upperparts. Many have more extensive dark coloration to lower mandible and appear more like the western wood pewee. On average, the wing bars stand out more than on the western wood pewee, with the upper and lower wing bars the same color and prominence (unlike the western, which usually has a less noticeable upper wing bar).
Extremely similar to the western wood pewee and best separated by range and voice. Most often confused with the willow and the alder flycatchers. Note the willow’s and alder’s relatively short primary projection (barely reaching beyond base of tail), smaller size, brighter wing bars, and tendency to wag its tail. wood pewees also forage from higher prominent perches, to which they repeatedly return. Compare with the greater pewee, the olive-sided flycatcher, and the eastern phoebe.
Call: a loud, dry chip plit and clear, whistled, rising pawee notes; often given together: plit pawee. Song: a clear, slow plaintive pee-a-wee; second note is lower; often alternates with a downslurred pee-yuu.
Status and Distribution
Common. Breeding: variety of woodland habitats. Migration: primarily circum-Gulf migrant. Most return mid-April (southern Texas) to mid-May (Great Lakes); remain later than the western, regularly into early October. Winter: mostly northern South America. No valid United States winter records. Vagrant: casual in West to western Texas, western Oklahoma, western Kansas, eastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, western Nebraska, western South Dakota, western North Dakota, eastern Montana, south-central Saskatchewan, New Mexico, southern Nevada, southern Arizona, southeastern Oregon, and California (9 recs., mostly fall singing birds).
Breeding Bird Survey shows widespread declines, particularly in central North America, but species not classified as threatened, vulnerable, or of special concern. Causes for decline unknown.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006