Living Bird Magazine
Townsend's SolitaireMyadestes townsendi
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Turdidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Solitario Norteño (Spanish)
- Solitaire de Townsend (French)
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.
- Cool Facts
- During the winter, the male and female are both strongly territorial, defending patches of juniper trees against other solitaires and other birds. They feed largely or even exclusively on the juniper's ripe, fleshy berries for the entire nonbreeding season.
- The Townsend's Solitaire sings throughout the fall and winter to set up and hold its winter territory. Violent fights may break out in defense of the winter territory, because owners of large, berry-rich territories survive the winter at higher rates than solitaires on small territories with few berries.
- If you ever thought that you liked berries, check out a Townsend's Solitaire's appetite. One study suggested they would need to eat between 42,000 and 84,000 juniper berries to survive the winter. Now that is a lot of berries.
- The Townsend’s Solitaire is in the thrush family, which includes species such as Western Bluebird and American Robin. Unlike most thrushes, Townsend’s Solitaires fly out and back from a perch to capture food, similar to how flycatchers behave.
- The Townsend’s Solitaire is the only solitaire species in the continental United States, but 7 other species of solitaire (genus Myadestes) occur throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and 5 species are native to Hawaii, although 2 of them are extinct.
- The Townsend's Solitaire usually puts its nest on the ground, but may nest above the ground in a decaying stub or a live tree. It is especially fond of nesting along cut banks. All of the sites used are nooks or hollows beneath some sort of overhanging object that shelters the nest from above.
- John Kirk Townsend collected the first Townsend’s Solitaire in 1835 along the lower Willamette River in Oregon. Three years later, John James Audubon honored Townsend by naming the bird after him.
- The oldest recorded Townsend's Solitaire was at least 5 years old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in California.