• 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.

Merlin Bird ID app
Be a Better Birder Tutorial 3

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
5.5–7.1 in
14–18 cm
Wingspan
9.8–11.4 in
25–29 cm
Weight
0.8–1.3 oz
23–37 g
Relative Size
Smaller than an American Robin, larger than a Song Sparrow
Other Names
  • Grive solitaire (French)
  • Zorzalito colirrufo (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Males usually gather food for the nest, while females feed the nestlings. The young birds start by eating bits of larvae, then grasshoppers, moths, and spiders. One Hermit Thrush has been seen trying to give a nestling a salamander more than 1.5 inches long.
  • Hermit Thrushes usually make their nests in and around trees and shrubs, but they can also get more creative. Nests have been found on a cemetery grave, on a golf course, and in a mine shaft.
  • Hermit Thrushes sometimes forage by “foot quivering,” where they shake bits of grass with their feet to get insects. They also typically begin to quiver their feet as they relax after seeing a flying predator. Some scientists think the quivering happens as the bird responds to conflicting impulses to resume foraging or continue taking cover.
  • East of the Rocky Mountains the Hermit Thrush usually nests on the ground. In the West, it is more likely to nest in trees.
  • Hermit Thrushes make several distinct calls around their nests. They will sometimes make a rising byob sound similar to a canary call or mewing kitten. Females frequently rearrange their eggs while making quit quit noises. In the morning, two adults meeting near the nest will greet each other with a pweet pweet call.
  • Hermit Thrushes are part of a genus (Catharus) that includes four other similar thrushes in North America: the Veery, Swainson's Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Bicknell's Thrush. In the northeastern mountains, the Veery lives at the lowest elevations, Hermit Thrushes at middle elevations, and Swainson's Thrushes at high elevations.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Hermit Thrushes live in a wide variety of habitats, ranging from boreal forests of the far north to deciduous woods and mountain forests. Look for them in open areas inside forests, such as trails, pond edges, mountain glades, or areas partially opened up by fallen trees. In winter, Hermit Thrushes often occupy lower-elevation forests with dense understory and berry bushes, including pine, broadleaf evergreen, and deciduous woods. In Mexico, they have been seen around streams and urban lawns.

Food


Insects

In spring, the Hermit Thrush eats mainly insects such as beetles, caterpillars, bees, ants, wasps, and flies. They also occasionally eat small amphibians and reptiles. In the winter, they change their diet to eat more fruit, including wild berries.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–6 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.8–1 in
2–2.5 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.7 in
1.5–1.8 cm
Incubation Period
11–13 days
Nestling Period
10–15 days
Egg Description
Light blue, sometimes spotted with brown
Condition at Hatching
Helpless, with just a few tufts of dark gray down. Eyes closed.
Nest Description

The female builds the nest from grass, leaves, pine needles, and bits of wood, with mud and lichen around the outside. She lines the nest with finer plant materials and willow catkins. The finished nest is 4–6 inches across, and the cup is 2–3 inches wide and 1–2 inches deep. The female takes 7–10 days to build the nest.

Nest Placement

Ground

Hermit Thrushes nest on the ground or low in vegetation, often beneath small conifer trees or shrubs. Open spaces near berry and fern thickets, pasture edges, and forest roads are common sites. Birds east of the Rocky Mountains typically nest on the ground, while those to the west tend to nest off the ground in shrubs or tree branches. These higher nests are usually at or below eye level but can be up to 20 feet high.

Hermit Thrush Nest Image 1
© 2004 Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Hermit Thrush Nest Image 2
© 2004 Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Behavior


Ground Forager

Hermit Thrushes forage on the forest floor and will often hop and then stay still, peering at the ground. They sometimes pick up leaf litter with their bills or shake grass with their feet to find insects. When they’re about to fly, they flick their wings or tails. The Hermit Thrush may respond to predators by crouching and pulling back its head. During courtship, the male chases the female in circles, then the pair adopts a slower flying pattern after one or two days. In winter, look for Hermit Thrushes foraging with small forest songbirds such as kinglets, chickadees, titmice, and Brown Creepers.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Hermit Thrush populations have generally been rising since 1966 according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 40 million with 66 percent spending part of the year in the U.S, 75 percent in Canada, and 33 percent wintering in Mexico. They rate a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. Like almost all migrant songbirds, Hermit Thrushes migrate at night and can be drawn toward transmission towers and skyscrapers, where they die in collisions. Although forest fires are a natural part of many forest ecosystems, they typically result in Hermit Thrushes moving elsewhere for several years while the forest regenerates.

Credits

Range Map Help

Hermit Thrush Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Short-distance migrant. Among the five North American thrushes in the genus Catharus, Hermit Thrushes are the last to migrate south in the fall, the first to head north in spring, and the only ones to winter in the United States.

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.