, ntopus sordidulus veliei

Status:  Common regular spring and fall migrant west, locally rare west-central, rare casual elsewhere. Common regular breeder west, locally rare west-central.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM6396, 24 May 1900 Monroe Canyon, Sioux Co.

Taxonomy:  Four subspecies are recognized, two north of Mexico: saturatus from southeast Alaska to western Oregon, and veliei, of the western and west-central USA south to northern Mexico (Gill and Donsker 2017). Nebraska birds are veliei (Pyle 1997).

Hybridization between Eastern and Western Wood-Pewees is rare, or rarely detected (https://birds.outdoornebraska.gov/western-x-easter…ood-pewee-hybrid/).

Changes Since 2000:  Western Wood-Pewee has extended its range eastward, mainly in three areas, the Niobrara River Valley, western Loup Drainage, and especially the North Platte River Valley. In each of these areas, except possibly the western Loup Drainage, both wood-pewee species occur together.

Spring:  May 14, 14, 14 <<<>>> summer

Earlier dates are 3 May 2017 Chadron SP, Dawes Co, and 9 May 2020 Smith Lake WMA, Sheridan Co.

Arrival is in late May. There are no Kansas specimens earlier than 29 Apr (Thompson and Ely 1992).

Migrants may occur somewhat east of the summer range but are difficult to identify unless calling. The only easterly reports with supporting documentation (calling) are 21 May 2011 Dakota Co, 23 May 2015 Antelope Co, 27 May 2010 Knox Co, and 30 May 2009 Hooker Co. There are four accepted records for Iowa Jun-Oct (http://iowabirdrecords.org/Documents/RecordsTo1999.pdf).

  • High counts: 51 in Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co 13 Jun 2019, 48 in 4 miles of Monroe Canyon 4 Jun 2020, 40-50 at Box Butte Reservoir, Dawes Co 26 May 2005, 33 in Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co 20 Jun 2020, and “dozens” at Chadron SP 3 Jun 2005.

Summer: Breeding Western Wood-Pewees are most numerous in the Pine Ridge and Niobrara River Valley in Sioux, Dawes, and Sheridan Cos, and the North Platte River Valley and Wildcat Hills in Scotts Bluff Co.

Rosche (1994) placed the easternmost site of regular Panhandle breeding in canyons south of Redington in Morrill Co, but more recently there have been several reports east of the Panhandle.

The present eastward limit of regular breeding in the Niobrara River Valley is uncertain, although Wester Wood-Pewee occurs east to the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Brown and Keya Paha Cos. The contact zone between Western and Eastern Wood-Pewees may be moving eastward and around 1960 was thought to lie between the Pine Ridge and Valentine (Short 1961). A Jun 1988 Sheridan Co report was of the two “singing side by side” (Grzybowski 1988); a nest was observed at Smith Lake WMA, Sheridan Co, in 2001 (Mollhoff 2004) and nest-building was observed there 8 Jun 2006 (Mollhoff 2006). It was common at Smith Lake WMA 1984-2008, with best count 25 during 15-31 Aug 2005 (Steven Jones, pers. comm.); this WMA is located on a tributary of the Niobrara River. Songs with the “song pattern of Eastern Wood-Pewee and tone quality of Western Wood-Pewee” were “documented” in Cherry Co 21 May 1989 (Grzybowski 1989). There have been reports from Valentine, Cherry Co since around 1990, and reports are increasing in the area drained by tributaries of the Niobrara River southwest of Valentine. Breeding was confirmed at Valentine NWR 12 Jul 2006, several were 10-20 miles southwest of Valentine Jun-Jul 2008, and one was at Snake River Falls 13 Jun 2002.

Earliest reports for Keya Paha Co and Brown Co are 7 Jun 1985 and 22 Jun 2003 respectively. More recently, singing birds were noted in Keya Paha and Brown Cos 19 Jun 2012 at locations where Eastern Wood-Pewees were also present. In 2016 a Western Wood-Pewee singing at Holt Creek WMA, Keya Paha Co 24 Jul responded to a Western Wood-Pewee call playback but not to an Eastern Wood-Pewee call playback; a nearby Eastern Wood-Pewee did indeed respond. At the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Brown and Keya Paha Cos, 1-2 were found 11 Jun 2015 and 19 Jun 2015, three were heard 6-9 Jun 2017, one singing along with an Eastern Wood-Pewee, and one was along the Niobrara Valley Preserve West Trail in Brown Co 23 May 2021. Numbers continued to increase in 2018 in the Niobrara Valley Preserve, where there were numerous reports 3 Jun- 1 Jul, including four on 29 Jun and one on 15 Sep. In 2019 there were several reports of singing birds 30-31 May at Fort Niobrara NWR and at the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Brown Co.A singing bird was northwest of Niobrara, Knox Co 21 Jun 2003, but on the South Dakota side of the Missouri River.

In the western Sandhills, Western Wood-Pewees had been present in summer around 1980 at Crescent Lake NWR (Roger Sharpe, personal communication), but there have been no reports since 7 May 1995 and 5 Jun 1999. Summer reports are few but increasing in the western Loup Drainage; at NNF Bessey, Thomas Co, a territorial male was present 28 May 1980, one was found 4 Jun 1993 Thomas Co (Bray 1994), one on 12 Jun 2010, and two on 16 Jun 2015. One was calling at Thedford, Thomas Co 25 May 2021. Elsewhere in the western Loup Drainage reports of single birds are 4 Jun 1986 Grant Co, 31 May-7 Jun 1982 McPherson Co, 8 Jun 2008 and 27 Jun 1956 Logan Co, and 23 Jun 2003 in Arthur Co (eBird.org).

Eastward movement is occurring in the North Platte River valley. The species has been present in the Lewellen, Garden Co area at the west end of Lake McConaughy for at least 20 years; Rosche (1994) cited three nesting records in “lakeside cottonwood forest” in southeast Garden Co 1987-1993, and 8-9 singing males were in the area 27 Jul 1997. Brown et al (1996) banded singles in the Lake Ogallala, Keith Co area 16 and 30 May and 5 Jun, including a female with a brood patch, and recent summer reports there are 18 Jun 2008 and 4 Jun 2015. Reports in Lincoln Co began with a sighting 19 May 2007; 1-2 were heard and seen 3 Jun 2008, and singles in southeast Lincoln Co 6 Jul 2009 and 18 Jun 2010 mark the current easterly limit. Further indication of increasing numbers in the Lincoln Co area were the five singing in cottonwood savannah habitat northwest of Paxton 10 Jul 2009; another was just northwest of North Platte 7 Jul 2015.

In southwest Nebraska it was described as breeding in eastern Colorado on the South Platte River into Deuel Co, Nebraska (Andrews and Righter 1992); Short (1961) suggested that contact may occur there with Eastern Wood-Pewee. However, other than a Cheyenne Co report 11 Jun 1992, there have been no further reports in that area. Further south, in Dundy Co, there was a “possible” breeding report in the period 1984-98 (Mollhoff 2001), eight were counted there 14 Jun 2006, and breeding was confirmed when three “fuzzy fledglings” were found 15 Jul 2008. An older report was of one in cottonwood forest at Swanson Reservoir SRA, Hitchcock Co 9 Jun 1990 (Grzybowski 1990). There are no breeding season reports since 2008 from Dundy or Hitchcock Cos.

  • Breeding Phenology:
    Nest-building: 8 Jun-1 Jul
    Eggs: 14 Jun-11 Jul
    Nestlings: 23 Jun- 20 Aug
    Fledglings: 12 Aug

Fall:  summer <<<>>> Sep 23, 23, 24

A later date is 30 Sep 2018 Scotts Bluff Co.

Departure is in mid-Sep; there are no Kansas specimens later than 17 Sep (Thompson and Ely 1992).

Reports east of the breeding range are few and undocumented; field identification of non-calling birds is virtually impossible (see Comments). Last dates above are from well within the Panhandle breeding range.

  • High counts: 50 at Wind Springs Ranch, Sioux Co 30 Aug 2008, 41 in Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co 24 Aug 2019, 34 in Scotts Bluff Co 12 Aug 2002, 26 in Sioux Co 4 Aug 2000, 25 at Smith Lake WMA 14 Aug 2005 and 25 at Oliver Reservoir, Kimball Co 29 Aug 2020.

Comments: Determination of the range limits of this species and of Eastern Wood-Pewee is difficult because of the problems of identification of the two away from their regular breeding grounds. They are very similar in appearance, even sometimes considered conspecific (Mayr and Short 1970), and may hybridize, although probably only to a limited extent (https://birds.outdoornebraska.gov/western-x-easter…ood-pewee-hybrid/).

Plumage characteristics are at best suggestive, and vocalizations may be misleading, although generally species-specific if carefully heard (Rising and Schueler 1980). Short (1961) studied the wood- pewees in Nebraska, and noted that while songs usually identify these species, “occasional songs of Western Wood-Pewee are virtually indistinguishable from Eastern Wood-Pewee singing abbreviated [rather than full] songs.”

Thompson et al (2011) cited information regarding eight pewee specimens collected in southwestern Kansas 7 Jun-6 Aug; they were identified as one Eastern Wood-Pewee (C. virens), five Western Wood-Pewees, and two intermediate but somewhat closer by coloration to Western Wood-Pewee.

The identification problem may not have been important earlier in the 20th century, as Swenk and Dawson (1921) indicated that Western Wood-Pewee occurred only west of the 100th meridian and its range and that of Eastern Wood-Pewee “do not anywhere meet.”


NNF: Nebraska National Forest
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
SRA: State Recreation Area
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)


Photograph (top) of a Western Wood-Pewee in Sioux Co 31 Jul 2013 courtesy of NEBRASKALAND/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Literature Cited

Andrews, R., and R. Righter. 1992. Colorado birds.  Denver Museum of Natural History, Denver, Colorado, USA.

Bray, T.E. 1994. Habitat utilization by birds in a man-made forest in the Nebraska Sandhills. Master’s thesis, University of Nebraska-Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Brown, C.R., M.B. Brown, P.A. Johnsgard, J. Kren, and W.C. Scharf. 1996. Birds of the Cedar Point Biological Station area, Keith and Garden Counties, Nebraska: Seasonal occurrence and breeding data. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 23: 91-108.

Ducey, J.E. 1989. Birds of the Niobrara River valley, Nebraska. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 27: 37-60.

Gill, F., and D. Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird List (v 7.3), accessed 30 January 2018.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1988. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 42: 1308-1310.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1989. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 43: 499-501.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1990. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 44: 1152-1154.

Mayr, E., and L.L. Short. 1970. Species taxa of North American birds, a contribution to avian systematics. Publications of the Nuttall Ornithological Club, No. 9. Nuttall Ornithological Club, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2001. The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas 1984-1989. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers No. 7. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2004. The 2001 Nesting Report. NBR 72: 99-103.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2006. The 2006 Nebraska nest report. NBR 74: 142-147.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rising, J.D., and F.W. Schueler. 1980. Identification and status of wood-pewees (Contopus) from the Great Plains: what are sibling species? Condor 82: 301-308.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska.  Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

Short, L.L., Jr. 1961. Notes on bird distribution in the central Plains. NBR 29: 2-22.

Swenk, M.H., and R.W. Dawson. 1921. Notes on the distribution and migration of Nebraska birds I. Tyrant Flycatchers (Tyrannidae). Wilson Bulletin 33: 132-141.

Thompson, M.C., and C.A. Ely. 1992. Birds in Kansas. Vol. 2. University of Kansas Museum Natural History Publications Educational Series No. 12, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

Thompson, M.C., C.A. Ely, B. Gress, C. Otte, S.T. Patti, D. Seibel, and E.A. Young. 2011. Birds of Kansas.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2021. Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 4 Jun 2021