Townsend's Solitaire Life History

Habitat

Habitat Open WoodlandsTownsend’s Solitaires inhabit pine, fir, and spruce forests with sparse shrub layers in mountainous regions from about 1,100 to 11,500 feet. They are less common in mixed evergreen and deciduous forests and in quaking aspen stands. During the nonbreeding season some Townsend’s Solitaires migrate short distances to lower elevations (sea level to 6,500 feet) especially where juniper berries are abundant. Prime wintering habitat includes one-seed, western, or Rocky Mountain juniper trees with a few scattered tall pines for perching. In winter, they also use desert washes, open hillsides, and shrublands if fruits are available. Back to top

Food

Food InsectsThe Townsend’s Solitaire eats insects, butterflies, moths, and spiders during the breeding season but switches to eating fruit, especially juniper berries, during the nonbreeding season. They primarily eat juniper berries but also eat winterberry, holly, buckthorn, currant, serviceberry, hackberry, elderberry, and other fruits. They capture insects by flying out from perches and snapping them in midair or by pouncing on prey in trees or on the ground. They also flutter to pick berries from trees or grab them from the ground.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest GroundPairs investigate possible nest sites together until the female picks a spot. She builds the nest on the ground in dirt banks along road cuts, riverbanks, or naturally eroded slopes in open evergreen forests. Along these banks, she chooses a nook or hollow such that the nest is partially protected from above.

Nest Description

Female Townsend’s Solitaires build cup nests with pine needles, lined with grasses or strips of bark. If she builds a nest on level ground, she builds the cup nest in a small depression. If she builds a nest on a slope, she first lays down a foundation of twigs. She can build a nest in as little as 2 days or she can take up to 14 days to complete it. Nest size depends on whether the nest is on level ground, but averages 8 inches by 3 inches on the outside with a smaller cup that is 3 inches by 2 inches.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:3-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.9-0.9 in (2.2-2.4 cm)
Egg Width:0.7-0.7 in (1.7-1.8 cm)
Incubation Period:11-13 days
Nestling Period:10-14 days
Egg Description:Variable in color from dull white to pale pink to greenish blue, with dark blotches and spots scattered throughout.
Condition at Hatching:Hatchlings are naked with sparse gray down and closed eyes.
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Behavior

Behavior FlycatchingThe elegant Townsend’s Solitaire perches upright and sings from prominent perches at all times of the year. When they leave their perch they fly with slow leisurely wingbeats. To attract a mate, males sing from the treetops and fly 300 feet or more above the ground and then slowly circle downward while singing. Once paired, males feed females to preserve the pair bond; a common behavior known as mate feeding. They begin breeding early in the spring which allows them to renest many times in case their early nests fail. Their habit of nesting in banks makes them susceptible to ground-dwelling nest predators such as Douglas squirrel, golden-mantled ground squirrel, skunks, and other rodents. In the nonbreeding season, they defend territories around berry-producing shrubs such as junipers that help them get through the winter. They defend these food-rich territories aggressively by chasing, threatening, and fighting other birds that enter. Solitaires chase Mountain Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, Western Bluebirds, Cassin’s Finches, and Evening Grosbeaks from their winter territories, but they often lose to American Robins, which displace the solitaires temporarily. Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernThe Townsend’s Solitaire is common in much of the West and populations remained stable between 1968 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 1 million individuals, with 80% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 39% in Canada, and 13% in Mexico. The species rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds Watch List. The Townsend’s Solitaire may benefit from forest thinning activities in breeding areas, but increases in populations in thinned forests may not continue as forest patches age. Back to top

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.

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Credits

Bowen, Rhys V. 1997. Townsend's Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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