Cuban Pewee

Content for this page researched and created by Katie Clever

Cuban Pewee sitting on a perch
Photo by Matt MacGillivray

The Cuban Pewee, Contopus caribaeus, is one of the many native bird species of Cuba. It is the most abundant bird in Cuba and is also called the “crescent-eyed Pewee” (Lloyd, Slater). Contopus caribaeus is part of the Tyrannidae avian family (Lloyd, Slater). Although it is primarily found in Cuba, it has also been seen in Cuba’s neighbor, the Bahamas (Neotropical Birds). The Pewee primarily lives on the South Coast of Cuba and on nearby cays (The Internet Bird Collection). It was also seen in Florida in 1995, but, it was overlooked as just a pest (Audubon). After that sighting, only a handful of Pewees have been seen in the United States, primarily in the southern areas of Florida (Field Guide to Birds of North America). Strangely enough, the Pewee population in Florida increases during the winter season (Wallace). They are actually referred to as the “accidental residents of the United States” (Monroe). There is not an exact number of how many Pewees there are in the world, but their population is substantial (Isada, Rivero, Alvarez).

Contopus caribaeus is a flycatcher. It is a type of bird that typically catches and eats flying insects usually during short flights from a perch (Neotropical Birds). The Pewee also becomes very familiar with one perch where it finds food, and it is very rare for the Pewee to go to another (Danforth). Unlike other flycatchers, the Pewee has a distinct and very unique call or “whistle” (Danforth). The Pewee’s call can sound like many “weet” notes, “weeooo” notes, and “dee dee” notes (Macaulay Library). The Pewee is also very famous for making its unique call around 11:00 A.M. (Furman). This call is known as the Pewee “dawn song” (Danforth). Although the Pewee is very similar to many other flycatchers and is often mistaken for other species, it has many distinct characteristics (Pyle). The Cuban Pewee’s color, bill size, and whistle are the main points of distinction between it and the other flycatchers (Xeno-canto). Also, the Pewee’s molting patterns are very unique (Pyle).

Cuban Pewee on a leaf
Photo By Carol Foil

The Cuban Pewee is approximately 15 centimeters long, with a large head, long tail, short wings, and a very thin bill that is well designed for catching small insects (BirdFellow). Its head is dark and has a white eye ring which is the source of the nickname “crescent-eyed Pewee” (Neotropical Birds). It has a bushy, crested hind crown, which gives its head its angular shape (BirdFellow). The Pewees in Cuba have a striking white crescent shaped “post ocular spot” not found on other Pewees (Reynard, Garrido, Sutton). The Pewee’s under parts are pale yellow (Field Guide to Birds of North America). The Cuban Pewee’s unique olive-gray color is an important feature that distinguishes it from other flycatchers (Kirwan, Kirkconnell, Flieg).

Being a flycatcher, the Pewee is known for eating flying insects. However, it also eats many other foods as well including non-flying insects and spiders, and  fruits and berries (Garrido, Kirkconnell). Pewee’s are very important insect control agents in their habitats (Garrido, Kirkconnell, Flieg). Without the Pewees, insects population could increase causing  harm to agriculture and the natural vegetation of their habitats (Garrido, Kirkconnell, Flieg).

The Cuban Pewee lives in all types of woodlands from sea level to the highest elevations (Neotropical Birds). They can live in pine forests, woodlands, scrubby areas, and mangroves (BirdFellow).  In a given habitat, the Pewee build nests utilizing many different materials (South Dakota Birds). Their nests resemble a small cup woven together with grasses, rootlets, lichens, moss and animal hair (South Dakota Birds).

Cuban Pewee sitting on top of a fence
Photo by Charlie Jackson

The Cuban Pewee’s mating season is from March to June (Kirwan, Kirkconnell, Flieg). Female Pewees usually lay around 2-4 eggs and are the primary incubator (South Dakota Birds). Once the eggs hatch, both parent Pewees help feed the chicks. Baby Pewees usually fledge around 16 days after birth (South Dakota Birds).

The Giant Pewee is the Cuban Pewee’s closest relative. However, it was first thought that the Hispaniolan Pewee, Jamaican Pewee, and Cuban Pewee were all the same species. They were all placed into the Greater Antillean Pewee species (Robbins, Dunn, Dittman, Heinl, Kratter, Lasley, Mactavish). Today, there as many as five subdivisions of Cuban Pewees living in Cuba (Neotropical Birds).  The Cuban Pewee is labeled as least concerned and is not considered threatened with extinction. The Pewee’s population is very stable (Kirwan, Kirkconnell, Flieg).

General References:

Contopus Caribaeus. Neotropical Birds. The Cornell Lab of Orinthology, 2010. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

Cuban Pewee. Audubon. National Audubon Society. 2014. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

Cuban Pewee. BirdFellow. BirdFellow Corporation, 2009. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

Cuban Pewee. Field Guide to Birds of North America. Percevia, 2002. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

Cuban Pewee. Macaulay Library. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

Cuban Pewee. South Dakota Birds. South Dakota Birds and Birding. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

Cuban Pewee. The Internet Bird Collection. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

Cuban Pewee. Xeno-canto. Naturalis Biodiversity Center, 2005. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

Garrido, Orlando H and Arturo Kirkconnell. Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba. Cornell University Press. 2000. Print.

Kirwan Guy, Arturo Kirkconnell, and Mike Flieg. A Birdwatchers’ Guide to Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico & The Caymans. United Kingdom. Prion Ltd. 2010. Print.

Scientific References:

Danforth, Stuart T. “Birds Observed in the Vicinity of Cuba.” The Wilson Bulletin 40.3 (1928): 178-82. The Wilson Bulletin. Web. 30 September 2015.             <>.

Furman, Andrew. “The Tale of a Cuban Immigrant.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 10.2 (2003): 147-54. Print.

Isada, Alain, Eliser Torres, Jarenton Rivero, and Dianely Alvarez. “New Bird Species and Distributional Records for Jardines De La Reina Archipelago, Cuba, during Autumn and Spring Migrations.” Research Gate (2011): 55-60. Print.

 Kirwan, Guy M., and Arturo Kirkconnell. “Leucism in Crescent Eyed Pewee (Contopus caribaeus) in Western Cuba.” Research Gate 13.3: 88. Print.

Lloyd, John D., and G. L. Slater. “Abundance and Distribution of Breeding Birds.” Journal of Caribbean Ornithology 24 (2011): 1-9. Web. 30 September 2015.

Monroe, Burt L., Richard C. Banks, John W. Fitzpatrick, Thomas R. Howell, Ned K. Johnson, Henry Ouellet, J. V. Remsen, and Robert W. Storer. “Fortieth Suppliment to the American Ornithologists’ Check-List of North American Birds.” The Auk 112.3 (1995): 819-30. The Auk. Web. 30 September 2015.  <>.

 Pyle, Peter, Amy Mcandrews, Pilar Veléz, Robert L. Wilkerson, Rodney B. Siegel, and David F. Desante. “Molt Patterns and Age and Sex Determination of Selected Southeastern Cuban Landbirds.” Journal of Field Ornithology 76.4 (2004): 136-45. Web. 30 September 2015.

 Reynard, George B., Orlando H. Garrido, and Robert L. Sutton. “Taxonomic Revision of the Greater Antillean Pewee.” The Wilson Bulletin 105.2 (1993): 217-27. Web. 30 September 2015.  >.

Robbins, Mark B., Jon L. Dunn, Donna L. Dittmann, Kimball L. Garrett, Steve Heinl, Andrew W. Kratter, Greg Lasley, and Bruce Mactavish. “ABA Checklist Committee 2003 Annual Report.” Checklist Report: 38-40. American Birding. Web. 30 September 2015.   <>

Wallace, George E., Martin K. Mcnicholl, Ramona Oviedo Prieto, and Alejandro Llanes Sosa. “Winter Surveys of Forest-Dwelling Neotropical Migrant and Resident Birds in Three Regions of Cuba.” The Condor (1996): 745-68. Web. 30 September 2015. <>