Wood Thrush: Hylocichla mustelina


The wood thrush is large and plump, reddish-brown above and whitish below, with large dark spots on its throat, breast and sides. It has a bold, white eye ring, and its tail is short.


It is often tied to shade-grown coffee plantations in South America for winter survival, since it requires shady areas. Spring brings it returning to North America to breed in moist deciduous forests.

It prefers large forest tracts, and is in decline in some areas of the country due to fragmentation of habitat and predation by free-roaming cats. In the 25 years between 1966 and 1991, according to breeding bird surveys, the wood thrush declined by 42 percent.


The song of the wood thrush is so beautiful it inspired Handel to write a piece of music in the bird's honor. There is no more lovely a sound than the loud, flute-like song, ending in a trill, of this songbird.

The wood thrush is also hard-hit by the increased presence of the brown-headed cowbird, which employs an unusual reproductive strategy. The cowbird will lay its eggs in the nests of other songbirds, including wood thrush; the songbirds often raise the vigorous hatchlings as their own, often at the expense of their own offspring. This is called nest parasitism. When Columbus landed, cowbirds were limited to the west of the Mississippi River, since they need open country for feeding. But as forests were felled in the east, the range of the cowbirds extended.

The fragmentation of forests means more edge areas where wood thrush habitat (deep woods) overlaps with the openness desired by cowbirds, hence increased nest parasitism.

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