Catharus fuscescens

  • Version: 3.0 — Published August 2, 2017
  • Christopher M. Heckscher, Louis R. Bevier, Alan F. Poole, William Moskoff, Peter Pyle, and Michael A. Patten

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Figure 1. Breeding distribution of the Veery.

Winters in tropical northern South America (see text for details).


Medium-sized thrush with uniformly reddish brown upperparts. Throat and chest are buff with indistinct reddish brown spots; belly is white.

© Evan Lipton , Massachusetts , United States , 3 May 2016

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology dedicates this account in honor of Maria Schneider, member of the Lab of Ornithology's Administrative Board.

A tawny-colored thrush with a mellifluous song that cascades through the deep woods on its breeding grounds in the United States and Canada, the Veery bears a scientific name that reflects the beauty of its song and coloration: Catharus, from the Greek katharos, means “pure,” referring possibly to the texture of the song, and fuscescens, from the Latin fuscus, means “dusky” (Choate 1985). It was first described in Wilson and Bonaparte 1831 by ornithologist Alexander Wilson, who gave the species two names—Wilson's Thrush and Tawny Thrush (Wilson and Bonaparte 1831).

This Nearctic–Neotropical migrant regularly crosses the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea during spring and fall migration. Once in South America, the Veery initially settles in the southern Amazon basin, but it also undertakes an intratropical migration to a second overwintering site in mid-season. In North America it breeds in early-successional, damp, deciduous forests, often near streamside thickets or swamps. Where its breeding range overlaps those of the Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) and Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus), the Veery generally chooses wetter, younger woodlands than these other thrush species. It is primarily a ground forager, feeding mostly on insects when breeding and adding fruit in late summer and fall. The Veery's distinctive, ethereal song prevails at dusk, and this species can distinguish between the vocalizations of neighbors and strangers, reacting aggressively when the latter intrude on a territory.

Key foundational studies of the Veery have focused on vocalizations (Stein 1956, Dilger 1956b, Samuel 1972b), migratory behavior (Cochran et al. 1967, Cochran 1972, Suthers 1987, Diehl and Larkin 1998), and how the Veery and other spot-breasted thrush species partition habitat on their breeding grounds (Dilger 1956a, Bertin 1977a, Noon 1981). A flurry of recent Veery studies have focused on nest site selection (Heckscher 2004), overwintering distribution and movement behavior (Remsen 2001, Heckscher et al. 2011, Heckscher et al. 2015), stopover ecology in South America (González-Prieto et al. 2011, Bayly et al. 2012, Gómez et al. 2014), vocalizations (Heckscher 2007, Belinsky et al. 2012, Schmidt and Belinsky 2013, Belinsky et al. 2015, Brennan and Jones 2016), breeding biology (Halley and Heckscher 2012, Halley and Heckscher 2013, Halley et al. 2016), use and effect of alien plant species (Heckscher 2004, Heckscher et al. 2014, Meyer et al. 2015), effects of predators on nests (Schmidt et al. 2006, Schmidt and Ostfeld 2008b), and systematics and divergence in terms of migration and morphology in this and other Catharus thrushes (Outlaw et al. 2003, Winker and Pruett 2006, Topp et al. 2013). This species remains poorly studied on its overwintering grounds in South America, where it spends up to 8 months of the annual cycle.

Recommended Citation

Heckscher, C. M., L. R. Bevier, A. F. Poole, W. Moskoff, P. Pyle, and M. A. Patten (2017). Veery (Catharus fuscescens), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.