Birds in Forested Landscapes
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WOOD THRUSH (Hylocichla mustelina)

Breeding: Eastern North America, from southern Ontario, southwestern Quebec, New Wood Thrush distribution mapBrunswick, and Nova Scotia south to northern Florida, west to the eastern parts of the Great Plains in Texas, to eastern Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. May be slowly expanding their range northward.


Winter: In lowlands of Central America, from southern Mexico to western Panama; rarely in southeastern United States.


Wood Thrush by Larry McQueen

Breeding habitat

Inhabits the interior and edges of deciduous and mixed forests, generally in cool, moist sites, often near water. Requires moderate to dense understory and shrub density with a lot of shade, moist soil, and decaying leaf litter. Shows much variation in habitat use, from mature deciduous forests in the southeast, to shrubby second-growth forests and suburban parks in the northeast to riparian habitats in the Great Plains.

Conservation status

Even though it is one of the most common species of Eastern forests, the Wood Thrush is of high conservation concern because of steady, long-term population declines, nearly throughout its range. This species has declined 43% overall since 1966. This species seems to be dependent on large tracts of mature forest in some parts of its range, but is tolerant of disturbance in other areas. In winter, it is highly vulnerable to tropical deforestation in the lowlands of Central America. Understanding the precise breeding habitat requirements of this species, and how they vary geographically, will be important for reversing population declines and maintaining future populations.


Male: Larger than other forest thrushes; slightly smaller than American Robin. Reddish-brown on crown and nape, changing to olive-brown on back, wings, and tail. White underparts with large dark spots on throat, breast, sides, and flanks. White eye-ring.

Female: Same as male.

Wood Thrush  photo by J. R. Woodward slide#468.1
Juvenile: Secondary and greater coverts have a buffy edging and the black spots on the breast are not as well defined as those on the adults; appear to be sooty. Underparts are slightly streaked with buff.


Song: A series of yodeled phrases with a pause in between each phrase. A phrase consists of three distinctive parts: one or two short, low notes, quickly followed by a complex, flute-like note. It ends with a short, high trill. The phrase sounds like ee-oh-lay.

Calls: Calls include a rapid series of notes that sound like pit-pit-pit or wik, wik, wik, wik, wik.

Foraging strategy

Forages by gleaning and probing in the leaf litter on the forest floor. Always forages under the forest canopy, hops and then pauses to scatter leaves to find prey. Sometimes hawks or hovers to glean insects or fruit from vegetation above the ground. Young are fed small insects and some fruit.


Eats beetles, ants, moths, caterpillars, millipedes, and isopods. In the late summer and fall eats more fruit—spicebush, foxgrape, blueberry, holly, elderberry, Virginia creeper, pokeweed, dogwood, black cherry, and black gum.

Behavior and displays

  • Sings from an exposed perch, usually in the lower canopy or mid-story. Often flushes from the forest floor.

  • When performing an agonistic display (a behavior used to threaten another bird), there may be brief physical contact between males with feet or bill if defending a territory or nest.

  • Other aggressive displays are fairly passive: wing and tail flicks, raised crests, and puffing up of breast feathers. Observed to be aggressive toward robins, Veeries, Blue Jays, and other species.

  • Has been observed "anting." Anting occurs when a bird picks up a single ant or group of ants and rubs them on its feathers. The purpose of this behavior is not well understood. It is thought that birds may be able to aquire defensive secretions from the ants possibly used for some medicinal purpose. Also may be a supplement to the birds own preen oil.


  • The male arrives and establishes a territory several days before the female arrives on the breeding ground.

  • The female leads silent circular flights about 3–6 feet (1–1.8 meters) from the ground, with the male chasing the female. Generally 6 or more flights take place in succession. In between each flight the pair perches together and may feed one another.


Nest site: On the lower limbs of a tree or shrub, hidden among leaves in a shady area. Generally near or against the trunk. Also found in a crotch or fork supported by small branches. May be anchored to a branch with mud.

Height: Usually 10–13 feet (3–4 meters) above ground; 2–70 feet (0.5–21 meters) possible.

Nest: Nest is made of dead leaves, dried grasses, bark, and moss, with a middle layer of mud. Often contains pieces of white paper or cloth. The cup is molded by the female as she packs the base and sides with her body during the building process. The cup is lined with fine rootlets. Female builds the nest in approximately 3–6 days.

Eggs: Usually 3–4, oval to short oval in shape with one end slightly pointed. Smooth, blue-green with no markings.

Incubation period: Incubation is done by the female alone for 11–14 days, average of 12 days. If disturbed the incubating female will sink her body lower in the nest and point her bill straight up , revealing her white throat. The male generally stays close to the nest and occasionally feeds the female. The female may start incubating before the clutch is complete.

Nestling period: The nestlings are altricial (born naked or with a small amount of down, eyes closed, unable to move or feed themselves) with pale yellow flanges at the gape. The young are brooded by the female. Feather plumes erupt from the sheath at 6–7 days, and the nestlings fledge at 12–14 days. Both parents feed the young and swallow or carry away fecal sacs from the nest.

Fledgling period: Young stay near the nest after their first departure. The parents divide the brood after they fledge and continue to feed them for 23–25 days after they have hatched. The young may beg for up to 32 days.

Broods: Double brooded.

Cowbird Parasitism: A frequent cowbird host;  population stability of the Wood Thrush may be threatened by cowbird parasitism. Parasitism rates are greatest in the Midwest.


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