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Hermit Thrush Life History


Open WoodlandsHermit 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.Back to top


InsectsIn 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.Back to top


Nest Placement

GroundHermit 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.

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.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.8-1.0 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.
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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. They habitually lift their tail upward and then slowly lower it, often flicking their wings as well. 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.

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Low Concern

Hermit Thrush populations stayed relatively stable between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 72 million and rates them 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Like almost all migrant songbirds, Hermit Thrush migrate at night and can be drawn toward transmission towers and skyscrapers, where they are killed 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.

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Dellinger, Rachel, Petra Bohall Wood, Peter W. Jones and Therese M. Donovan. (2012). Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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Learn more at Birds of the World