June 20, 2018
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Pewees and phoebes compared

By Judy Kellogg Markowsky, Special to the BDN

I heard a eastern wood-pewee at Avalon Village in the forest. Eastern wood-pewees are related to the eastern phoebe, and their songs are similar. If you whistle “pewee” and “phoebe,” they seem much the same. And people think the word “pewee” is funny, but they use “Phoebe” as a name for a girl!

The pewee is an inconspicuous dun-brown bird of the middle canopy in the forest. It is common but hard to find.

A few weeks ago I found an eastern wood-pewee on its nest. This bird gets its name from the whistling, “pee-ah-wee” song. This pewee nest was on a horizontal branch 20 feet high, next to the trunk.

Eastern wood-pewees are found in and along the edges of woods and they choose conspicuous and high perches. They eat mostly flies. They should — they are in the flycatcher family. They also eat beetles, bees, wasps, ants, moths, bugs, grasshoppers, elderberries, blackberries and pokeberries.

Years ago, I found a pewee nest that had fallen to the ground. The nest was a thick-walled cup about 3 inches across, well covered with lichens.

At Avalon at the apartment building, we have a nest of phoebes. The library is close by, and another pair of phoebes has a nest.

Phoebes used to build their nest on a cliff near a stream and eat mostly stoneflies, and also beetles, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies, moths, caterpillars, spiders and millipedes. They make nests from a bit of mud and moss lined with grasses, hair and feathers.

I like to compare the wood-pewee and the phoebe. The pewee covers the nest with lichens, and the phoebe covers the nest with moss. Pewees build their nest on a tree, often close to the trunk, and phoebes build their nest on a cliff near a stream. (Now they build their nests on a building and under bridges, too.)

The pewee has a song and uses it for his mate. The phoebe has a song, but I believe that wagging tails tell each other where they are in a noisy area with a fast-running stream.

In winter, the pewee goes to Costa Rica, well into South America, while the phoebe stays mostly in the United States and a bit of northern Mexico.

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