Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Sunday, October 14, 2007

An Eastern Wood-Pewee with a Hoarse Voice

The yard and neighborhood have seemed so quiet the past week that I’d all but given up on seeing any more migrants passing through, when I heard an Eastern Wood-Pewee’s distinctive rising call this morning – puh-weeee. Instead of sounding clear and sweet as it usually does, though, this Pewee’s voice sounded raspy and hoarse. It called repeatedly, and then I saw it, hunting from the low branches of a pecan tree and pausing long enough for me to see it well – dark, slightly pointed head; crisp white wing bars; rather long, slightly notched tail; pale throat and dusky “vest”; and only a very faint trace of an eye-ring. Its bill was dark on the upper mandible and tip, and the lower mandible orange.

It stayed in view for several minutes, perching on low branches, moving its head quickly from side to side, fluttering off to catch an insect. Its voice was the most interesting thing about it – it called over and over again, the same rising puh-weeee, hoarse and scratchy in quality.*

It was also a pleasure to watch, and I was sorry when an Eastern Phoebe came along and chased it away for the moment, though it stayed around off and on for the rest of the day. Although I like Phoebes too, both the markings and the movements of a Wood-Pewee seem more delicate and graceful, as if drawn with a sharper pen and a lighter, crisper touch. And, of course, they’ll be gone soon, for the winter. The Phoebes, year-round residents which have been particularly active and vocal lately, are a lot of fun in their own way, with more gregarious personalities – full of energy, lively, and frequently singing, chattering, or calling a soft tsup.

It’s interesting that we did not hear the songs of Eastern Wood-Pewees regularly during this past summer – I think there was only one pair nesting in or near the neighborhood – but this fall we’ve seen and heard several passing through in migration, and one or two have stayed around for several days.

(*It occurred to me to wonder if this could possibly have been a Western Wood-Pewee, since this species is described as almost identical to the Eastern, but with a burry, rough-quality voice. The recordings of a Western Wood-Pewee I’ve listened to, however, don’t sound anything like the call of the one I was watching, they sound much harsher, with a very different quality, and I found one reference to the fact that both species may at times call with either burry or clear voices. So I think this one was an Eastern Wood-Pewee with an unusually hoarse voice.)


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