For the Birds: Unexpected, welcome discovery

Photo by Chris Bosak
A gray catbird with food perches on a branch in New England, summer 2019.

I heard what I was pretty sure was a scarlet tanager high in one of my oak trees. The thick foliage makes it nearly impossible to find anything up there. Even a brilliantly bright red bird like a scarlet tanager could easily be hidden from view.

I looked with my naked eye for several minutes, hoping to spot some motion to give away the bird’s location and identity. To my frustration, I couldn’t find a thing, even though I knew right where the song was coming from.

So, I figured I’d try scanning the area with my binoculars with the hopes of catching a glimpse of some bright red among the dark green leaves. Picking out a bird among thickly leafed-out treetops is usually a lesson in futility and humility.

But not this time.

No, I didn’t find a scarlet tanager. I did, however, find the active nest of an eastern wood-pewee. Somehow, my binoculars trained themselves right on the spot. The small, cupped nest is built in the Y of a dead branch sticking out among the impenetrable foliage, about 40 feet high.

I watched the mother pewee for a few minutes before she flew off into the woods. I noticed a bright orange object in the nest. I assumed it was a mushroom of some sort because the dead branch is covered in a white fungus. With my binoculars, however, I discovered it was the mouth of a baby bird waiting to be fed.

Sure enough, about two minutes later the mother bird returned and a few other orange “mushrooms” appeared.

It was the first time I had ever found an active eastern wood-pewee nest Continue reading

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Eastern wood-pewee nest

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern wood-pewee sits on a nest in New England, summer 2019. The small orange thing at the edge of the nest is a newborn pewee.

I was happy to find an eastern wood-pewee nest the other day. I found it quite by accident (full story coming next week in For the Birds column.) It’s about 40 feet high and in the Y of a dead branch in an oak tree. Finding a nest is always a thrill and this is the first eastern wood-pewee nest I’ve ever found, making it even more special.

Again, the nest is high up in a shaded area, hence the poor quality of the photos.

What nests do you have in your yard? Drop me a line and let me know.

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern wood-pewee tends to a nest in New England, summer 2019.
Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern wood-pewee sits on a nest in New England, summer 2019.

What’s an eastern wood-pewee look like anyway?

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern wood-pewee perches on a branch in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern wood-pewee perches on a branch in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

I stepped out onto the back deck this morning, coffee in one hand and a freshly cleaned and filled hummingbird feeder in the other. The din of a distant interstate highway and the song of an eastern wood-pewee were the only sounds I heard. The high-pitched “pe-weee” is ubiquitous in the summer in my woods. On mid-summer afternoon walks, sometimes that song is the only sign of birdlife to be experienced.

But while the eastern wood-pewee is often heard in New England woods, it isn’t seen as often. The woods are thick with vegetation and leaves in the summer, providing cover for the birds. Lighting is poor in the woods as those same leaves block the sun from illuminating the scene. Finally, eastern wood-pewees are small, nondescript birds. They don’t exactly stand out in a crowd.

So for the casual birder, and even some more experienced ones, eastern wood-pewees are often heard and rarely seen. Earlier this year, I found a stunned pewee on my front porch. It had hit my storm door and fell to the ground. Luckily it was only stunned and I picked it up, held it in my hand for a few minutes and watched it fly off to a nearby perch. As it collected its wits on the branch for a few moments, I had the opportunity to grab a few photos of it before it flew off to parts unknown.

I posted a few months ago a few photos of the bird while it was in my hand. Click here for that posting. Here are a few photos of an eastern wood-pewee in a more natural setting. Now you can see why they are so tough to find in the shaded woods.

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern wood-pewee perches on a branch in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern wood-pewee perches on a branch in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Stunned eastern wood-pewee survives


I found this guy on my porch as I was walking into the house this afternoon. He must have bumped into the bedroom window, and became stunned. I was happy to see that its neck looked OK. A broken neck from a window strike is fatal to birds.

Often, they are only stunned and need to collect their wits before they fly off and return to their day. I picked up the bird to keep it warm and calm. I was going to put it in a box and place it away from lurking predators. However, after a few seconds, I felt the bird try to flap its wings in my hand. I loosen my grip and the bird flew to a nearby branch. It immediately let out its trademark song, a high-pitched “pee-wee.”

It was an eastern wood-pewee and we will hear that song in the woods all summer.