Ornithological Note 148

Notes on the vocalizations of Tropical Pewee (Contopus cinereus)

Peter F. D. Boesman April 21, 2016
Section(s): Voice, Systematics

In the following we briefly analyze and compare voice of the different races of Tropical Pewee (Contopus cinereus). We also try to quantify the extent of any vocal differences using the criteria proposed by Tobias et al. (2010), as a support for taxonomic review. We have made use of sound recordings available on-line from Xeno Canto (XC) and Macaulay Library (ML).

There is quite some variation in vocabulary among races. I have therefore inventarised all available recordings on XC and ML:

Central American birds C. c. brachytarsus (with C. c. rhizophorus and C. c. aithalodes no recordings )

1. a trilled "trreereree" (with variations in length, sometimes decelerating at end): 20 recordings

2. a short emphatic upslurred "peek": 6 recordings

3 a short "kit!" (1 rec.) and "peewee" (misidentified?)

Caribbean birds C. c. bogotensis and C. c. surinamensis

1. a trilled "treereeree" or "prrreee" (with variations in length, sometimes decelerating at end): 11 recordings

2. a short "pseet": 1 recording

3. a mellow "peeet": 1 recording

Tumbes birds C. c. punensis

1. a whistled "peee-pit": 12 recordings

2. a whistled "peee-peee" or "peee-peee-peee": 9 recordings

3. a single "peee": 2 recordings

4. a trilled "pee-pi-tr": 2 recordings

Southern birds C. c. pallescens and C. c. cinereus

1. a whistled "pee!-heew": 14 recordings

2. a repeated "pip..pip..pip..": 22 recordings (incl. wintering birds in SE PEru)

3. a short "psit" (1 rec.) and some interaction trills (1 rec.)


It is clear from this overview that Central American and Caribbean birds, while not identical, share at least the main trilled vocalisation. If we group these, we keep 3 groups with very different vocalisations. (There may be more vocalisations than what is presently available in the above recordings, and especially dawn songs may still be under-recorded. We will however continue with what we have at present).

Based a.o. on the number of recordings, it is fair to say that the day-time song for each of the 3 groups is:

Central American and Caribbean group: a trilled "trreereree"

Tumbes birds: a whistled "pee-pit" or "peee-peee"

Southern birds: a whistled "pee!-heew"


group 1: C.Am and Caribbean group: a trilled "trreereree" (n=7)

min. freq.                              1860-2700Hz

max. freq.                             4200-5600Hz

freq. range                           1700-3000Hz

longest note                         0.046-0.060s

shortest note                       0.025-0.04s

# of notes                             5-12

total length                           0.28-0.54s

min. space                            0.005-0.02s                  

group 2: Tumbes birds: a whistled "pee-pit" or "peee-peee" (n=7)

min. freq.                              2700-3150Hz

max. freq.                             4000-4700Hz

freq. range                           900-2000Hz

longest note                         0.26-0.38s

shortest note                       0.04-0.33s

# of notes                             2-3

total length                           0.45-0.84s

min. space                            0.075-0.20s

group 3: Southern birds: a whistled "pee!-heew" (n=5)

min. freq.                              1200-2120Hz

max. freq.                             4500-5000Hz

freq. range                           2700-3300Hz

longest note                         0.21-0.36s

shortest note                       0.09-0.11s

# of notes                             2 (sometimes connected )

total length                           0.34-0.51s

min. space                            0.00-0.04s


We can therefore conclude that day-time song differs as follows:

group 1 vs group 2: Central American and Caribbean group has a trilled day-time song with more notes (score 3-4), which are shorter (score 3) with hardly any spaces in between (score 3). When applying Tobias criteria this would lead to a total vocal score of about 6.

group 1 vs group 3: Central American and Caribbean group has a trilled day-time song with more notes (score 3-4) and shorter notes (score 3). Total score 6

group 2 vs group 3: Tumbes birds have a much narrower frequency range (score 2-3) with a longer pause in between notes (score 2-3). Total score about 5.


This note was finalized on 10th July 2015, using sound recordings available on-line at that moment. We would like to thank in particular the many sound recordists who placed their recordings for this species on XC and ML.



Tobias, J.A., Seddon, N., Spottiswoode, C.N., Pilgrim, J.D., Fishpool, L.D.C. & Collar, N.J. (2010). Quantitative criteria for species delimitation. Ibis 152(4): 724–746.

More Information: on148_tropical_pewee.pdf 

Recommended Citation

Boesman, P. (2016). Notes on the vocalizations of Tropical Pewee (Contopus cinereus). HBW Alive Ornithological Note 148. In: Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow-on.100148