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Townsend's Solitaire

Myadestes townsendi ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TURDIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Townsend’s Solitaire is an elegant, wide-eyed songbird of western-mountain forests. Their drab gray plumage gets a lift from subtly beautiful buffy wing patches and a white eyering. Though they're thrushes, they perch upright atop trees and shrubs to advertise their territories all year long, and can easily be mistaken for flycatchers. Their sweet jumbling song gives them away and enlivens their evergreen forest and juniper woodland homes. In winter they switch from eating primarily insects to eating fruit, particularly juniper berries.

Keys to identification Help

Thrushes
Thrushes
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    This thrush is a medium-sized songbird with a long tail, a short bill, and a small rounded head relative to its body size. Their upright posture and long tail gives them a long and slender appearance.

  • Color Pattern

    Townsend’s Solitaires are gray birds with prominent white eyerings. Their buffy wing patches and white outer tail feathers are often prominent in flight. Juveniles are dark gray overall and heavily spotted with buff and white, giving them a scaly look.

  • Behavior

    The elegant Townsend’s Solitaire perches upright and sings from prominent perches at all times of the year. Birds fly out and back to nab insects on the wing or pounce on insects on the ground. In the winter, they move south or to lower elevations to feed on juniper berries which they aggressively defend.

  • Habitat

    Townsend’s Solitaires inhabit open pine, fir, and spruce forests in mountainous regions from about 1,100–11,500 feet. During the nonbreeding season some Townsend’s Solitaires migrate short distances to lower elevations especially where juniper berries are abundant.

Range Map Help

Townsend
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Townsend's Solitaire

    Adult
    • Short bill and small rounded head
    • Plain gray overall
    • Bold white eyering
    • Buff patches in wings often easier to see in flight
    • © Ryan Sanderson/Macaulay Library, Madison, Indiana, January 2017
  • Adult

    Townsend's Solitaire

    Adult
    • Short bill and small rounded head
    • Plain gray overall (back and breast same color)
    • Bold white eyering
    • Buffy wing patches often easier to see in flight
    • © Gerard R. Dewaghe, Arizona, December 2008
  • Adult

    Townsend's Solitaire

    Adult
    • Short bill and small rounded head
    • Long tail
    • Bold white eyering
    • Buffy wing patches often easier to see in flight
    • Plain gray overall
    • © Cameron Rognan, Hoytsville, Utah, April 2008
  • Adult

    Townsend's Solitaire

    Adult
    • Short bill and small rounded head
    • Long tail
    • Bold white eyering
    • Buffy wing patches often easier to see in flight
    • Plain gray overall
    • © Betsy McCulley, Romulus, New York, December 2012
  • Adult

    Townsend's Solitaire

    Adult
    • Slender appearance with long tail, short bill, and small rounded head
    • Bold white eyering
    • Buffy wing patches often easier to see in flight
    • Plain gray overall
    • © Raymond Lee, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, January 2013
  • Adult

    Townsend's Solitaire

    Adult
    • Slender thrush with long tail
    • Bold white eyering
    • Buffy wing patches often easier to see in flight
    • Plain gray overall
    • © Darin Ziegler, Park, Colorado, September 2010
  • Juvenile

    Townsend's Solitaire

    Juvenile
    • Short bill and round head
    • Heavily spotted with buff and white with a scaly look
    • Dark gray overall
    • Buffy wing patches
    • © Isaac Denzer/Macaulay Library, Big Lake, Linn, Oregon, August 2016
  • Juvenile

    Townsend's Solitaire

    Juvenile
    • Short bill and small rounded head
    • Long tail
    • Heavily spotted with buff and white with a scaly look
    • Buffy patches on wings
    • Dark gray overall
    • © Todd Steckel, Sisters, Oregon, July 2013

Similar Species

Similar Species

Townsend's Solitaires are thrushes, but they perch upright on high, exposed perches like flycatchers. Don't be fooled—flycatchers tend to be more compact, with blockier heads and longer bills than Townsend's Solitaires. Female Mountain Bluebirds have faint blue tinges in the wings and tail and lack the buffy wingbars of Townsend's Solitaire. Northern Mockingbirds are larger and paler gray-brown above with a paler belly. They also have large white wing patches and lack the white eyering of Townsend's Solitaire. Mockingbirds don't tend to perch as upright as Townsend's Solitaires and aren't common in the mountainous regions where Townsend's Solitaires breed (although their habitats may overlap in winter and at lower elevations). Western Wood-Pewees are smaller and often show a peaked crown as opposed to the round headed look of the Townsend’s Solitaire. Western Wood-Pewees also have narrow whitish wingbars (not buffy) and lack an eyering. Olive-sided Flycathcers are smaller and have a very distinctive vested look when seen head on. They also have longer bills and a slightly peaked crown. Gray Jays are larger than Townsend’s Solitaires and have white cheek patches and no wingbars or eyering.

Backyard Tips

If you live in an area of the West where juniper trees grow, try adding a couple to your yard to entice a Townsend Solitaire to visit during the winter. Learn more about how to create bird-friendly backyards at Habitat Network.

Find This Bird

Townsend’s Solitaires are fairly inconspicuous birds that often sit motionless, but their sweet jumbling song and tendency to sing throughout the year, is often the best way to track them down. During the breeding season you might also stumble across a nesting pair by walking along an old Forest Service road with steeply cut banks. Be on the lookout for a gray bird that quickly darts out of the bank as you walk by (and if you do flush a bird, don't stick around too long and allow the bird to return to its nest). Perhaps the easiest time to see them is during winter, when these birds are common around junipers loaded with berries. Once you find a patch listen for their persistent ringing call and start scanning the tree tops.

Get Involved

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count and tell us how many species you see in your yard. Find out more at Great Backyard Bird Count.

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