Living Bird Magazine
Louisiana WaterthrushParkesia motacilla
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Parulidae
The ringing song of the Louisiana Waterthrush, in cadence so like the rushing streams that are its home, is one of the first signs of spring in eastern North America. Its brown plumage and bold streaking help explain why this member of the warbler family has the word “thrush” in its name. At all seasons, this species stays close to moving water—especially forested streams and creeks—and bobs its rear end almost constantly. In both spring and fall, Louisiana Waterthrushes are among the earliest migrant warblers.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Lousiana Waterthrushes in early spring and summer along forested streams, and listen for both the charming song and the very sharp, metallic call note. Once you’ve heard one, watch for it foraging at the water’s edge (or even on rocks in midstream), or singing from low perches along the streambanks.
- Reinita Charquera de Luisiana (Spanish)
- Paruline hochequeue (French)
- Cool Facts
- The specific name of Louisiana Waterthrush, motacilla, means “tail-wagger.” Motacilla is also the genus of the aptly named wagtails. But waterthrushes don’t actually wag the tail, they dip (or teeter) the entire rear of the body by moving their ankle joints. This motion is very much like the bobbing of Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, which share their wetland habitats. It’s been suggested that this habit might either help them avoid scaring off their prey or possibly startle their prey into motion.
- Northern and Louisiana Waterthrushes can be very hard to tell apart, but despite this superficial similarity they have never been known to hybridize. The two species have different bill sizes: the larger Louisiana takes larger prey than the smaller Northern. Louisiana favors the running water, while Northern more often uses still or stagnant water.
- Because Louisiana Waterthrushes feed on streambed (“benthic”) invertebrates, the species is an excellent indicator of the quality and health of a stream—or “stream ecosystem integrity” as a scientist might say.
- On their wintering grounds, Louisiana Waterthrushes share fast-flowing streams with species such as Torrent Tyrannulet, American Dipper, and Buff-rumped Warbler. Birders looking for any of these species can cue in on Louisiana Waterthrush as an indication that they’ve found the right habitat.
- Louisiana and Northern Waterthrushes sing similar songs, but you can tell them apart using their different habitats as a mnemonic. Louisiana’s song begins with a descending phrase, like the steep streamsides that it uses. The Northern Waterthrush occurs in bogs and other flat waters, and its introductory notes also stay on the same pitch.
- The oldest recorded Louisiana Waterthrush was a male, and at least 11 years, 11 months old, when he was seen in New Jersey in the wild and identified by his band. He had been banded in the same state.