La Selle thrush (Turdus swalesi)

GenusTurdus (1)
SizeLength: 26 - 27 cm (2)
Weight88 - 100 g (2)

The La Selle thrush is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A rather secretive bird of Hispaniola’s highland forests (3) (4) (5), the La Selle thrush (Turdus swalesi) is unmistakeable in appearance, being distinguished by its striking, beautifully patterned markings (3) (4). It is a relatively dark, large-bodied forest thrush which is slate-black on the head, upperparts and upper breast, becoming deep red-brown to chestnut on the rest of the breast and flanks, and white on the belly (3) (4) (6) (7).

The throat of the La Selle thrush is streaked with white (3) (4) (6) (7) and the cheeks and ear-coverts may be flecked silvery-grey (5) (6). The bill and the characteristic ring around this species’ eye are usually orange or yellowish-orange (3) (4) (5) (6). The La Selle thrush has glossy black wings and a black tail, being somewhat browner on the flight feathers and outer tail feathers (5). The undertail coverts are white (6). 

The male and female La Selle thrush are very similar in appearance (2). Two subspecies have been described, Turdus swalesi swalesi and Turdus swalesi dodae. T. s. swalesi is uniformly black on the upperparts, while T. s. dodae differs in having a more olive-brown back which contrasts sharply with the black on the head and neck (2) (6) (8).

The song of the La Selle thrush is a long, loud series of slow, deliberate, fluty notes and ‘tu-re-oo’ and ‘cho-ho-cho’ calls, often given at dawn and dusk (2) (3) (6). Its song is also described as bubbling and rollicking (2) or a quiet, mellow mix of gurgling notes. This species also produces a loud ‘wheury-wheury-whuery’ alarm call (6).

The La Selle thrush is endemic to Hispaniola, which includes Haiti and the Dominican Republic (2) (3) (7). This species is named after the place of its discovery, the Massif de la Selle, Haiti (4) (6).  

T. s. swalesi, occurs in the Massif de la Selle, Haiti, and Sierra de Baoruco, Dominican Republic. T. s. dodae is found in the Sierra de Neiba and Cordillera Central, Dominican Republic (3) (4) (6) (8).

The La Selle thrush is largely restricted to upland mountainous areas, usually above elevations of 1,300 metres (2) (3) (4).

This species occurs mainly in the dense, shrubby understory of moist montane broadleaf forest. The La Selle thrush may also sometimes occur in pine forest and planted clearings, but only where there is suitable broadleaf understory to support it (2) (3) (4). 

A shy, secretive species, the La Selle thrush is most conspicuous at dawn and dusk, when it sings from a variety of exposed perches (4). It is a largely terrestrial species, spending much of its time foraging on the ground for earthworms, insects and fruit (2) (3) (6).

The La Selle thrush is reported to breed between May and July, with the female laying two or three blue-green eggs in a bulky, cup-shaped nest. The nest is usually placed low in a shrub, bush or tree and is constructed mainly of moss and twigs (2) (3) (6). The nest is typically lined with a thin layer of mud and dried grass (6).

Large-scale habitat destruction in Haiti and the Dominican Republic is the biggest single threat to the La Selle thrush (3) (4).

Most of Hispaniola’s montane broadleaf forest has already been lost as a result of massive and far-reaching habitat destruction throughout the region. The remaining patches of suitable high-elevation forest are severely threatened due to steady encroachment and ongoing deforestation for agriculture and timber production (3) (6).

In the Dominican Republic, remaining areas of suitable habitat for the La Selle thrush are limited to the Sierra de Baoruco, remote areas of the Cordillera Central and very small fragments in the Sierra de Neiba. On Haiti, the last significant areas of suitable habitat for this increasingly endangered species are restricted to La Visite National Park (2) (3).

The La Selle thrush occurs in the Sierra de Baoruco and Armando Bermudez National Parks, Dominican Republic, and La Visite National Park, Haiti (3).

Recommended conservation measures for the La Selle thrush include providing stronger and more effective support for existing reserves, while the other areas in which this species occurs require formal protection (2) (3).

Find out more about the La Selle thrush and other birds:

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:

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2012)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2005) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. BirdLife International (April, 2012)
  4. Schulenberg, T.S. (Ed.) (2011) La Selle thrush (Turdus swalesi). In: Neotropical Birds Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
  5. Clement, P. and Hathway, R. (2000) Thrushes. Helm Identification Guides, A&C Black Publishers, London.
  6. Latta, S., Rimmer, C., Keith, A., Wiley, J., Raffaele, H., McFarland, K. and Fernandez, E. (2006) Birds of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Princeton Field Guides, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  7. Raffaele, H.A., Wiley, J., Garrido, O., Keith, A. and Raffaele, J. (2003) Birds of the West Indies. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  8. Graves, G.R. and Olson, S.L. (1986) A new subspecies of Turdus swalesi (Aves: Passeriformes: Muscicapidae) from the Dominican Republic. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 99(4): 580-583.