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Species: Hermit Thrush Catharus bicknelli


With spotted breast and reddish tail, the Hermit Thrush lives up to its name. It is a quiet and unobtrusive bird that spends much of its time in the lower branches of the undergrowth or on the forest floor, often seen flicking its wings while perched and quickly raising and slowly lowering its tail. This thrush is one of the most widely distributed forest-nesting migratory birds in North America. Its extensive breeding range includes the northern hardwood forest, as well as most of the boreal and mountainous coniferous forest areas north of Mexico. In migration, the species moves southward and spreads out to winter over much of the southern United States, through Mexico to Guatemala. It is the only species of Catharus that winters in North America, switching from a breeding diet of mainly arthropods to a wintering diet heavily supplemented with fruits.


General: A short distance migrant the Hermit Thrush is the only member of the Catharus thrushes to spend the winter in North America. A summer insectivore it changes its diet in the winter to equal parts of insects and fruit in winter.

A highly variable species in color and size, the Hermit Thrush’s morphological characteristics and plumage have been well studied: up to 13 different races. Hermit Thrush is a medium-sized thrush 6.75 inches long 31 gr (length of skins 144–183 mm). Distinguished by rufescent tail (especially toward base) and longer uppertail-coverts that contrast distinctly with remaining upperparts. Thin, whitish eye-ring and weakly defined whitish bar over lores. Base color of underparts typically whiter and spots on upper breast generally larger and rounder than on similar Catharus . In hand, 10th primary is longer than primary-coverts, 9th primary shorter than 6th, and 6th primary emarginated.

Adult: Males and females are similar with brown backs, reddish tails, black spots on the breast and a thin, white eyering. The behaviour of Hermit Thrush helps identify it as it cocks its tail up and flicks its wings frequently often quickly raising its tail and then slowly lowering it.

Similar Species: other spotted thrushes especially Swainson’s Thrush Catharus ustulatus. Swainson’s Thrush, especially the browner, more rufescent Pacific races, “Russet-backed Thrushes,” sometimes confused with Hermit Thrush, but Swainson’s has bolder, distinctly buff eye-ring and line over lores, and strong buff wash to lower cheeks and breast.

Behavior: Habit of cocking tail upward and flicking wings (tail lifted rapidly and lowered slowly) is distinctive among similar Catharus species.

Habitat: Uses broad spectrum of forested and edge habitat. Described as forest interior bird that favors internal forest edges. For example: margins of pond or meadow within forest patch; small clearings within wooded areas created by disturbances such as logging, drilling, road-building, utility cuts, wind, and fire; and mountain bogs and glades bordered by native or transplanted conifers.


For such a widely distributed species, surprisingly little is known about basic demographic characteristics such as life span, basic breeding biology and factors that influence reproduction and survival, and fidelity to breeding and wintering areas. Even the well-known song has been little studied.

Conservation Status:

BC Yellow, COSEWIC n/a, Global G5 (2008). As the only Catharus thrush that does not winter exclusively in the Neotropics, Hermit Thrush is partly spared adverse impacts of Neotropical deforestation, implicated in recent population declines of some North American songbirds. For this species, loss and/or fragmentation of wintering and nesting habitat in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico may be of concern.
Capture Rates

The first of the Catharus thrushes to arrive in their summer range, the Hermit Thrush is also the last to leave in the fall for their short distance migration south. This species breeds at higher elevations therefore capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) occur in April/May then again in September/October coinciding with their movement through the lower level coastal areas during spring and fall migration.


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