Hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus)

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Hermit thrush in winter
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST
CONCERN

Top facts

  • The hermit thrush uses its feet to shake blades of grass and detach insects, on which it feeds.
  • The male hermit thrush arrives on the breeding grounds before the female and establishes a territory.
  • The diet of the hermit thrush is seasonally variable, with more berries being eaten in winter and insects and small vertebrates being eaten in summer.
  • Although there are eight recognised subspecies of hermit thrush, some taxonomists think there may be more.
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Hermit thrush fact file

Hermit thrush description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyTurdidae
GenusCatharus (1)

The stocky hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus) (3) has a rather dull plumage, with grey-brown upperparts and a contrasting white underside (2) (4) (5) (6). The breast and lower neck are slightly buff-coloured (2) (5) and both areas are patterned with dark brown spots (2) (3) (6). The sides of the body are grey (2) (5) (6) and the rump and tail are chestnut brown (3) (4) (5).

The slender, straight bill (3) is black on the upperside and flesh-coloured on the underside (2) (5). The hermit thrush has a thin white ring around the eye (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) and its legs are flesh-coloured (2) (5).

The male and female hermit thrush are similar in appearance (2) (4), although the male may be slightly larger (4). The head and upperparts of the juvenile are patterned with buff-coloured streaks and the chest is covered in prominent dark, blurred spots (5). The tail of the juvenile is rufous-brown (2).

The many vocalisations of the hermit thrush include a melancholy song (3) and a series of short warbles, which are made by the male (2).

There are eight recognised subspecies of hermit thrush (2), which differ in their distribution, migration patterns, vocalisations and general appearance (2) (4). Some taxonomists believe that more subspecies may exist, although this is unconfirmed (4).

Size
Length: 16 - 18 cm (2)
Wingspan: 25 - 29 cm (3)
Weight
18 - 37 g (2)
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Hermit thrush biology

The diet of the hermit thrush is seasonally variable, with mostly animal matter being taken in the spring and summer, including beetles, caterpillars, ants, flies and bugs, as well as small amphibians and reptiles (3) (4). During the winter, the diet is mostly made up of wild berries, such as hackberries. When foraging for insects, this species exhibits a specific behaviour known as ‘foot quivering’, which involves shaking blades of grass with its feet to detach any insects before feeding on them (3).

The hermit thrush is generally present in its southern overwintering grounds between mid-September and May, although males occasionally leave to begin their northern migration as early as March. Male hermit thrushes begin to arrive on their breeding grounds between April and May and are shortly followed by females. Southward migration after the breeding season usually begins in August and is complete by the end of November. Migration typically occurs during the night (2).

The breeding season for the hermit thrush runs from the end of April to August (2), with the male arriving before the female to establish and defend a territory (4). The female builds the bulky nest, which has an outer layer of grass, leaves, moss and pine needles and is lined with finer material such as rootlets, stalks, bark and willow catkins (2) (3) (4). The nest is usually complete after seven to ten days (3) (4), after which time the female lays between three and six pale blue, lightly speckled eggs (2) (3) (4). The eggs are incubated by the female for 11 to 13 days, and the male delivers food to the female throughout this period, which is then regurgitated for the chicks once they have hatched (3) (4). Around 10 to 15 days after hatching, the young fledge the nest (3), and they reach sexual maturity after a year of life (2).

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Hermit thrush range

The breeding range of the hermit thrush extends through Canada and the western United States. In winter, most populations migrate south to the southern United States and Central America, although some populations in Arizona and New Mexico are sedentary and do not perform seasonal migrations (3) (8). Vagrant populations are also present in Greenland and mainland Europe (2) (4).

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Hermit thrush habitat

During the breeding season, the hermit thrush inhabits various woodland types including boreal, coniferous, mixed and deciduous forests (3) (4). Within their forest habitat, individuals are usually found around trails, pond edges or open areas with fallen trees (3). In the winter, the hermit thrush migrates south to areas of open woodland, pine forests and riparian thickets where there is abundant berry-producing vegetation. This species can be found up to elevations of 3,500 metres (2).

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Hermit thrush status

The hermit thrush is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Hermit thrush threats

The hermit thrush is not thought to be globally threatened and its wild population may be increasing. The modification of the natural landscape throughout the range of the hermit thrush has increased the amount of forest edges, which has provided this species with additional suitable habitat areas (2).

The main threat to the wild hermit thrush population is habitat degradation (2), as well as collisions with buildings and transmission towers, which are thought to cause many mortalities each year (2) (3) (4). Historically, mortalities were also thought to have been caused through poisoning from insecticides such as DDT and ingestion of other toxic chemicals (4).

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Hermit thrush conservation

There are no specific conservation measures currently in place for the hermit thrush, although its breeding grounds are protected Bird Conservation Regions, which have been designated by the American Bird Conservation Initiative (4).

More research into the hermit thrush’s life history would be beneficial for creating appropriate conservation measures for the future (4).

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Find out more

Find out more about the hermit thrush:

Find out more about North American bird conservation:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Boreal forest
The sub-Arctic forest of the high northern latitudes that surrounds the North Pole and is mainly composed of coniferous trees.
Deciduous forest
Forest consisting mainly of deciduous trees, which shed their leaves at the end of the growing season.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Riparian
Relating to the banks of rivers and streams.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Territory
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group.
Vagrant
An individual found outside the normal range of the species.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2014)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J. and Collar, N. (2005) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Available at:
    http://www.hbw.com/species/hermit-thrush-catharus-guttatus
  3. All About Birds - Hermit thrush (January, 2014)
    http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/hermit_thrush/id
  4. Jones, P.W. and Donovan, T.M. (2012) Hermit thrush (Catharus guttaus). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
    http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/261/articles/introduction
  5. Howell, S.N.G. and Webb, S. (1995) A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. MobileReference (2008) Encyclopedia of European Birds. MobileReference, Boston.
  7. Dunn, J.L. and Alderfer, J. (Eds.) (2006) Field Guide to the Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.
  8. BirdLife International - Hermit thrush (January, 2014)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=6373
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Image credit

Hermit thrush in winter  
Hermit thrush in winter

© Jim Zipp / www.ardea.com

Ardea wildlife pets environment
59 Tranquil Vale
London
SE3 0BS
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 208 318 1401
ardea@ardea.co.uk
http://www.ardea.com

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