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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Wood Thrush

Hylocichla mustelina ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TURDIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Wood Thrush's loud, flute-clear ee-oh-lay song rings through the deciduous forests of the eastern U.S. in summer. This reclusive bird's cinnamon brown upperparts are good camouflage as it scrabbles for leaf-litter invertebrates deep in the forest, though it pops upright frequently to peer about, revealing a boldly spotted white breast. Though still numerous, its rapidly declining numbers may be due in part to cowbird nest parasitism at the edges of fragmenting habitat and to acid rain's depletion of its invertebrate prey.

Birds of North America Online
Big Day 2014

Keys to identification Help

Thrushes
Thrushes
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Wood Thrush's pot-bellied body, short tail, straight bill, big head, and upright posture give it the profile of a scaled-down American Robin.

  • Color Pattern

    Wood Thrushes are warm reddish-brown above and white with bold black spots on their underparts. Juveniles show a somewhat muted version of the same pattern. All have a bold, white eyering.

  • Behavior

    The reclusive Wood Thrush hops through leaf litter on the forest floor, probing for insects, bobbing upright between spurts of digging and leaf-turning. The male's clear, flute-like song echoes through the forest in spring and early summer, and both sexes make distinctive, machine-gun-like alarm notes.

  • Habitat

    The Wood Thrush breeds in deciduous and mixed forests in the eastern U.S. where there are large trees, moderate understory, shade, and abundant leaf litter for foraging. They winter in lowland tropical forests in Central America.

Range Map Help

Wood Thrush Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Wood Thrush

    Adult
    • Large, pot-bellied thrush
    • Short tail
    • Bright brick-red above
    • White below with dense, dark spotting
    • © Eddie Callaway, Rockford, Illinois, May 2008
  • Adult

    Wood Thrush

    Adult
    • Large, pot-bellied thrush
    • Bill thicker than in other thrushes
    • Bright brick red above, brightest on head and nape
    • Dense, dark spotting on breast and flanks
    • © Roy Brown Photography, Dauphin Island, Alabama, April 2010
  • Adult

    Wood Thrush

    Adult
    • Large, pot-bellied thrush
    • Long pink legs
    • Bright brick-red above, brightest on head and nape
    • Bold, dark spots on breast and flanks
    • © Kelly Colgan Azar, Chester County, Pennsylvania, June 2010
  • Adult brooding chicks

    Wood Thrush

    Adult brooding chicks
    • Heavy-bodied thrush with stout bill
    • Brick red above
    • White below with heavy spotting on breast
    • © Kelly Colgan Azar, Chester County, Pennsylvania, June 2010

Similar Species

  • Juvenile

    American Robin

    Juvenile
    • Superficially similar to Wood Thrush
    • Slaty gray above
    • Pale stripe above eye
    • Buffy orange flanks and belly
    • © barnmom42, Pennsylvania, February 2008
  • Adult

    Hermit Thrush

    Adult
    • Similar to Wood Thrush but smaller and more slender
    • Longer tail
    • Drab grayish-brown above
    • Contrasting brick-red tail
    • © Isabel Cutler, North Carolina, March 2010
  • Adult

    Ovenbird

    Adult
    • Much smaller and daintier than Wood Thrush
    • Perches horizontally with tail cocked up at angle
    • Dull olive-brown above
    • Rusty stripe on crown
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Florida, May 2007
  • Adult

    Swainson's Thrush

    Adult
    • Similar to Wood Thrush but smaller and more slender
    • Small bill
    • Dull olive-gray above
    • Buffy wash on face and neck
    • © Tom Smith, Garrett Mountain Reservation, Woodland Park, New Jersey, May 2010

Similar Species

Wood Thrushes have bolder, blacker spots than other spotted thrushes such as Hermit Thrush and Swainson’s Thrush. On Hermit Thrushes, the spots concentrate on the upper breast and begin to smudge toward the belly. For Wood Thrushes the spots are clearly defined and contrast with their clean white underparts. The Wood Thrush also has a bolder white eyering than the Hermit Thrush and warmer, redder wings and back. Swainson’s Thrush has a subtler, buffy colored eyering, fewer spots, and olive-brown upperparts. Juvenile American Robins have gray upperparts and rusty reddish tones on the belly and breast. The Ovenbird is a warbler, not a thrush; it’s smaller, with a sharper bill and shorter legs. They have a streaked, not spotted breast, and black stripes on the side of the head.

Regional Differences

None.

Backyard Tips

Wood Thrushes are forest-interior birds and are unlikely to come to feeders. However, they are still common and may be audible from your yard if you live near small woodlots.

Find This Bird

You'll likely hear the Wood Thrush before you see it. The male sings his haunting, flute-like ee-oh-lay song from the lower canopy or midstory of deciduous or mixed eastern forests. To see Wood Thrushes, look for them foraging quietly on the forest floor and digging through leaf litter.