Wood Thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina)


Known for their beautiful songs Wood Thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) are more often heard than seen. These delightful birds are a medium-sized thrush and are the only member of the genus Hylocichla. They are migratory, and while their breeding grounds are in eastern North America, they generally fly south at night in mid-August. They may stop on the Gulf Coast for a few days in inclement weather before attempting to fly across the Gulf of Mexico to the tropical forests of southern Mexico and Central America. Wood Thrushes have been found in Western Europe but this is a rare occurrence and these birds are usually vagrants.

The typical Wood Thrush is 18.5 cm long and weighs about 48 grams. Their crowns, napes and upper back are a rusty-brown colour while their underparts are white with random black or dark-brown spotting. The rest of their upperparts are brown and they have a white eye ring and streaked cheeks. The bill is short and pointed with pink colouration near the corners and black colouration on the tip. The legs are also pink. All in all it is quite an attractive bird and both sexes are similar in appearance. The juvenile bird has pale spots on its upperparts but is otherwise difficult to distinguish from the adult. Wood Thrushes are famous for their beautiful flute-like voices and they are capable of combining two notes at once. Their singing is usually stronger and more elaborate just before sunrise and at dusk though they may sing throughout the day during mating season. They usually stop singing by the end of July.

Wood Thrushes generally favour well-shaded areas near water. They feed on beetles, flies, millipedes, earthworms, spiders and sow bugs which they usually find by overturning fallen leaves on the moist soil. They also feed on small fruits and berries. In the springtime, males return to their breeding grounds early to establish their territories. Before long, their beautiful songs attract a mate and a nesting sight that is well concealed and has plenty of shade is chosen. The female will usually build the nest in a fork in a tree, using mud, dead grass and dead leaves to create the structure. Once the nest is built, she will lay 3-4 greenish-blue eggs in it which she will incubate herself. She may have two broods in one season. Once the Wood Thrush chicks are hatched, both parents help to feed the nestlings.