Swainson's Thrush

Catharus ustulatus
Swainson's Thrush specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

Grayer overall than most of its North American relatives, Swainson’s Thrush (7 inches) is most easily separated from a similar species, the Gray-cheeked Thrush, by its buff-brown cheeks and conspicuous eye-rings. Other field marks include a spotted breast, pink legs, and a medium-length bill. Male and female Swainson’s Thrushes are similar to one another in all seasons. The Swainson’s Thrush breeds in Alaska and across a wide swath of central and southern Canada. Smaller numbers are found south of the Canadian border, particularly along the Pacific coast and at higher elevations in the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains. Swainson’s Thrush winters in southern Mexico and Central America south to Argentina. In summer, Swainson’s Thrush breeds primarily in evergreen forests dominated by spruce and fir trees. During the winter, this species inhabits wet tropical forests. On migration, Swainson’s Thrush may be found in a variety of habitats with dense undergrowth available for foraging and cover. Many North American birders never travel far south enough to see Swainson’s Thrush in winter. This species is much easier to observe in summer and on migration, although it is more often heard than seen due to its preference for habitats with thick vegetation. Swainson’s Thrush may be observed foraging food while hopping along the forest floor or through the branches of trees. Swainson’s Thrush is most active during the day, but, like many migratory songbirds, this species migrates at night.

DC Information

Common migrant in May and mid-September to mid-October. During migration it usually inhabits swamp, floodplain, and upland forests with thick understory. Sexes are similar.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC1849 Catharus ustulatus (Swainson's Thrush)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC2583 Catharus ustulatus (Swainson's Thrush)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC67148 Catharus ustulatus (Swainson's Thrush)