Bird in Focus- Wood Thrush
by Chris Showalter

Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustela)

Wood Thrush nest in Fernbank Forest

The Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustela) is the only member of the genus Hylocichla. The generic name is a direct translation of its common name, derived from the Greek words hylel "woodland" and cichlel "thrush." The specific name comes from the Latin mustela meaning "weasel."

The Wood Thrush is a favorite among bird watchers mainly due to its beautiful song (listen here). The flute-like sound of this thrush if often heard early in the morning as the males find an exposed perch from which they belt out their song to defend their territory.

The Wood Thrush has an extensive breeding range from southern Canada to northern Florida and as far west as Nebraska and Oklahoma. Its habitat is usually mature mixed deciduous forests. It prefers large unbroken tracts of forest, but is known to breed in small (1 acre) woodlots. However, birds breeding in the smaller forest patches tend to have greater problems with nest predation and parasitism by cowbirds.

Although not endangered or even listed as a threatened species (yet), the Wood Thrush is a species of special conservation concern. Results from the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) indicate that the population has dropped 43% since the 1960’s. Most of the blame, as it usually is, can be placed on loss of habitat and forest fragmentation in both the breeding and wintering grounds. In addition, a study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology suggested that Wood Thrushes are less likely to breed in areas with high levels of acid rain (read more here). Moreover, research conducted in Fernbank Forest suggests that the number breeding Wood Thrushes has declined. In fact, from 1996 to 2004 at least one Wood Thrush was captured, banded and released in Fernbank forest. In 2005 none were banded. On a positive note, several Wood Thrushes were captured and banded in the summer of 2008...reversing several years of decline at Fernbank!

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Chu, Miyoko and Stefan Hames. Wood Thrush Declines Linked to Acid Rain. Birdscope, newsletter of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Autumn 2002. <www.birds.cornell.edu>

Gruson, Edward S. Words for Birds. New York, NY: Quadrangle Books. 1972.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2008. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 - 2007. Version 5.15.2008. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD