• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Hermit Thrush

Catharus guttatus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TURDIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

An unassuming bird with a lovely, melancholy song, the Hermit Thrush lurks in the understories of far northern forests in summer and is a frequent winter companion across much of the country. It forages on the forest floor by rummaging through leaf litter or seizing insects with its bill. The Hermit Thrush has a rich brown upper body and smudged spots on the breast, with a reddish tail that sets it apart from similar species in its genus.

Be a Better Birder Tutorial 4
Drink Birds & Beans coffee. Save our birds.

Keys to identification Help

Thrushes
Thrushes
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Hermit Thrushes have a chunky shape similar to an American Robin, but smaller. They stand upright, often with the slender, straight bill slightly raised. Like other thrushes, the head is round and the tail fairly long.

  • Color Pattern

    The Hermit Thrush is rich brown on the head and back, with a distinctly warm, reddish tail. The underparts are pale with distinct spots on the throat and smudged spots on the breast. With a close look you may see a thin pale eyering (not a bold one).

  • Behavior

    Hermit Thrushes hop and scrape in leaf litter while foraging. They perch low to the ground on fallen logs and shrubs, often wandering into open areas such as forest clearings or trails. Sometimes a Hermit Thrush will cock its tail and bob it slowly, while flicking its wings.

  • Habitat

    Look for Hermit Thrushes in forest understories, especially around edges or openings.

Range Map Help

Hermit Thrush Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Hermit Thrush

    Adult
    • Stocky thrush
    • Reddish tail contrasts with duller brown/gray body
    • Dense black spotting on upper breast
    • Complete white eye ring
    • © Isabel Cutler, North Carolina, March 2010
  • Adult

    Hermit Thrush

    Adult
    • Chubby
    • Complete white eye ring
    • Reddish tail contrasts with dull gray/brown back
    • © Andy Johnson, Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, Michigan, April 2009
  • Adult

    Hermit Thrush

    Adult
    • Chubby, with shorter wings than other thrushes
    • Reddish tail contrasts with gray/brown back
    • Complete white eye ring
    • Dark spots on throat and upper breast
    • © Larry Meade, Huntley Meadows Park, Alexandria, Virginia, February 2009
  • Adult

    Hermit Thrush

    Adult
    • Chubby
    • Complete white eye ring
    • Reddish tail contrasts with dull brown body
    • Buffy flanks
    • © Syd Phillips, Nonaville, Tennessee, February 2011
  • Adult

    Hermit Thrush

    Adult
    • Chubby, with complete white eye ring
    • Reddish tail and wing edges
    • Dark spotting on throat and upper breast
    • Buffy flanks
    • © Roy Brown, Gilmer County, Georgia, March 2010
  • Juvenile

    Hermit Thrush

    Juvenile
    • Chubby
    • Immature shows pale speckling on head and back
    • Reddish tail contrasts with duller brown body
    • © geno k, Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick, Canada, July 2009
  • Adult

    Hermit Thrush

    Adult
    • Stocky with shorter wings than other thrush species
    • Complete white eye ring
    • Reddish tail contrasts with dull gray/brown body
    • Most common thrush in late fall and winter in coastal and southern U.S.
    • © Matt Bango, Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey, April 2010

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Swainson's Thrush

    Adult
    • Similar to Hermit Thrush, but more slender and longer-winged
    • Dull olive-gray back and tail
    • Buffy "spectacles" and face
    • Buffy throat
    • © Tom Smith, Garrett Mountain Reservation, Woodland Park, New Jersey, May 2010
  • Adult

    Veery

    Adult
    • Similar to Hermit Thrush but more slender and longer-winged
    • Warm reddish-brown upperparts
    • No eye ring
    • Faint buffy brown speckling on upper breast
    • © Bill Benish, Central Park, New York, New York, September 2010
  • Adult

    Gray-cheeked Thrush

    Adult
    • Similar to Hermit Thrush but more slender and longer-winged
    • Dull, olive-gray back and crown
    • Heavy dark spotting on breast
    • Plain, cold gray face
    • © Danny Bales, Florida, April 2009
  • Adult

    Wood Thrush

    Adult
    • Larger than Hermit Thrush with pot-bellied appearance
    • Bright reddish-brown above
    • Extensive bold black spotting below
    • Bright white eye ring
    • © Greg Page, Galveston, Texas, April 2010

Similar Species

Hermit Thrush is one of five similar thrushes in the genus Catharus. Though they look alike, they're also quite easy to tell apart using careful observation and accounting for your location and time of year. For instance, Hermit Thrush is the only one of these species that lives in the U.S. in winter. Swainson’s Thrush has a bolder, buffy eyering, more rounded spots on the breast, and no contrast between the color of the tail and the back. The Veery is entirely warm reddish-brown (again, no contrast between tail and back), and has weaker breast spotting. Wood Thrush has bold, black breast spots, so distinct that you can make out each individual spot. They have a bold white eyering and are warmer reddish-brown above, and are noticeably larger than Hermit Thrush. Gray-cheeked Thrush and Bicknell's Thrush are uncommon in many areas, even within their far northern breeding range. They are much grayer overall, with an indistinct eyering and very plain face.

Regional Differences

There are three main groups of Hermit Thrushes. Birds in the Pacific states tend to be smaller, thinner billed, with dusky brown upper bodies and grayish flanks. In the interior mountain West, they are bigger, thin billed, and grayer overall with larger spots and less rufous in the wings. Eastern birds are medium sized and thick billed. They are richly colored, with a buffy wash on the flanks and under the tail.

Backyard Tips

Hermit Thrushes rarely visit backyards and generally do not visit feeders. However, during migration, they often forage on the ground or eat berries in yards with trees or shrubs.

Find This Bird

Look for the Hermit Thrush in forest openings or along trails. This species spends winter and summer in different parts of the country, so check the range map to know when to go looking for one. In spring and summer, you'll likely hear their mournful, flute-like song, oh, holy holy, ah, purity purity eeh, sweetly sweetly long before you see them. In winter they are frequently near berry-bearing plants.

You Might Also Like

All About Birds Blog, ID Workshop: Use 4 Basic Keys Plus Migration Timing to Sort Out Your Thrushes, April 2014.