CUBAN PEWEE: NATURE’S LEAST SCARY TYRANT
The CUBAN PEWEE Contopus caribaeus bahamensis, also known as the Crescent-eyed Pewee (see photos for details), is a tyrant. At 6″ long , the smallest tyrant you are likely to encounter in the Bahamas, but undoubtedly a member of the family Tyrranidae. These are the flycatchers, and include the larger LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER and the still larger Loggerhead and Gray Kingbirds. The Cuban Pewee is permanently resident on Abaco, and can be found in both pine woods and coppice. When returning to its perch after a flycatching sortie, this bird gives a characteristic flick of the tail.
The little bird below was in the edge of the coppice bordering the long sandy beach at Casuarina. Bruce Hallett, in his essential book ‘Birds of the West Indies…’ notes that Cuban Pewees are ‘usually approachable’, so I decided to test this out. I was about 20 feet from the bird when I first saw it. By sliding one foot forward in the sand and pausing before moving the other foot, I got to within 5 feet of the bird, while it watched my approach with apparent indifference. Unlike some creatures, it did not seem discomfited by eye-contact. It responded when I made a faint clicking sound by rather sweetly putting its head on one side. Then it began to fidget slightly – possibly feeling camera-shy. So I shuffled slowly back so as not to disturb it in its own territory.
The close-ups at the end clearly show the tiny hooked tip at the end of the upper beak – I imagine this somehow relates to the business of catching flies. Like other flycatchers, the Cuban Pewee has very distinctive whiskers around the base of the beak – again I presume this assists with feeding in some way, perhaps helping to sense the approach of an insect. Any expert views welcome via the comment box.
It’s occasionally tempting to anthropomorphise such close encounters in terms of imputed human / creature empathy. Much best to resist that. But as I withdrew, leaving this little bird undisturbed on its branch, I did experience a strange feeling of… [I must interrupt myself here. I’m a lawyer, so that’s quite enough of that sort of nonsense]