Hermit Thrush

Catharus guttatus

  • Version: 2.0 — Published February 29, 2012
  • Rachel Dellinger, Petra Bohall Wood, Peter W. Jones, and Therese M. Donovan

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Hermit Thrush.
First-winter Hermit Thrush, Point Pelee, ON, 21 December.

Hermit Thrush is the only Catharus thrush to winter widely in the Lower 48. They are told by their bold black spotted underparts, and chestnut tail that contrasts with browner upperparts. This bird is safely aged as a first-winter based on its retained juvenile upperwing coverts, which are tipped buff. View this photographer's galleries here:

This species account is dedicated in honor of Carol Sisler, member of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Administrative Board.

With spotted breast and reddish tail, the Hermit Thrush lives up to its name. Although celebrated for its ethereal song, it is mostly 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. A highly variable species in color and size, the Hermit Thrush's morphological characteristics and plumage have been well studied, with 12-13 subspecies now recognized (see Systematics).

This thrush is one of the most widely distributed forest-nesting migratory birds in North America and the only forest thrush whose population has increased or remained stable over the past 20 years. Its extensive breeding range includes the northern hardwood forest, as well as most of the boreal and mountainous coniferous forest areas north of Mexico, with relatively recent expansions into New England and the southern Appalachians. In migration, the species moves to lower elevations and southward, spreading out to winter over much of the southern United States, through Mexico to Guatemala and east to Bermuda. 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.

Much has been learned about this widely distributed species since the original Birds of North America account of 1996. New information pertaining to its song, migratory behavior, winter territoriality, survival, and diet has been added, as well as many new insights into the potential effects of forest management and other human disturbances. Still lacking are detailed nesting studies, studies of juvenile dispersal, of daily activities and time budgets, and of migratory routes.

Recommended Citation

Dellinger, R., P. B. Wood, P. W. Jones, and T. M. Donovan (2012). Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.