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Swainson's Thrush


Swainson's Thrush

Swainson's Thrush

Nick Saunders

A nondescript, shy bird of northern woodlands, the Swainson's thrush is the plainest of the wood thrushes.

Common Name:

Swainson's Thrush

Scientific Name:

Catharus ustulatus


  • Bill: Straight, pointed, light pink base on lower mandible
  • Size: 7 inches long with 12-inch wingspan, short tail
  • Colors: Buff, whitish gray, olive brown, brown, pink, rust
  • Markings: Genders are similar with plain olive brown upperparts, wings and tail (western birds show a rusty wash). The face shows a prominent buff eye ring that may extend to pale lores for a "spectacles" effect. Chin, cheeks, throat and breast are buff and the chest has brown spots. A thin brown moustache line is frequently visible. Flanks and abdomen are a blurry whitish gray. Legs and feet are pink.


Insects, berries, fruit

Habitat and Migration:

The Swainson's thrush prefers moist, riparian woodland areas that include dense, shady coniferous or mixed coniferous and deciduous forests. This bird's summer range extends throughout the boreal regions of all of Canada and Alaska and to the forested mountain regions of the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountains, as well as the northern Great Lakes region and upper Appalachian mountains. In winter, these birds migrate to coastal Mexico, central America and northwestern South America extending south in the mountains to northern Argentina.


Because these birds can be easily confused with other brown thrushes, their upward spiraling song is often useful for identification. The song rises in pitch and has a musical whistling tone. The typical call is a plain but musical "chip" or "whit" syllable.


These are solitary birds during the spring and summer, but after the breeding season Swainson's thrushes may form mixed foraging flocks with other thrushes, vireos and wood warblers. They are relatively elusive and forage on the ground or into the middle heights of trees, occasionally hawking insects from the air. When threatened, they will raise their head feathers and flick their wings in an aggressive display.


The Swainson's thrush is a monogamous bird, and mated pairs will produce one brood of 1-5 eggs each year. The female parent will incubate the eggs for 12-14 days, and both parents feed the altricial young for an additional 12-14 days.

Attracting Swainson's Thrushes:

In the right habitat, these thrushes can be attracted with undisturbed leaf litter and appropriate moist cover with trees and shrubs. They will visit ground level bird baths and will feed in backyards that are not treated with pesticides. Because these birds are shy, quiet yards without outdoor pets or young children are also preferred.

Similar Birds:

  • Gray-Cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus)
  • Bicknell's Thrush (Catharus bicknelli)
  • Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)
  • Veery (Catharus fuscescens)

Photo – Swainson's Thrush © Nick Saunders

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