Scientific name: Hylocichla mustelina
Cover photo credit: Mike V.A. Burrell
“Special Concern” means the species lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered or threatened, but may become threatened or endangered due to a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.
Date added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List
June 27, 2014
Read the report (PDF)
What it looks like
The wood thrush is a medium-sized songbird, about 20 cm long – slightly smaller than the American robin and similar in shape. These birds are generally rusty-brown on the upper parts with white under parts and large blackish spots on the breast and sides.
Males and females have a similar appearance, and young birds look similar to adults, but have tawny streaks and spots on the back, neck, and wings.
The wood thrush forages for food in leaf litter or on semi-bare ground. Its prey includes larval and adult insects as well as plant material.
Where it lives
The wood thrush lives in mature deciduous and mixed (conifer-deciduous) forests. They seek moist stands of trees with well-developed undergrowth and tall trees for singing perches.
These birds prefer large forests, but will also use smaller stands of trees. They build their nests in living saplings, trees or shrubs, usually in sugar maple or American beech.
The wood thrush flies south to Mexico and Central America for the winter.
Where it’s been found in Ontario
The wood thrush is found all across southern Ontario. It is also found, but less common, along the north shore of Lake Huron, as far west as the southeastern tip of Lake Superior.
There is a very small population near Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario, and there have been scattered sightings in the mixed forest of northern Ontario.
What threatens it
Major threats to the wood thrush appear to be:
- the loss or breaking up of the bird’s forest habitat from urban, suburban and cottage development
- over-browsing by white-tailed deer in some locations, which decreases the number and type of plants and trees in the forest, including the number of saplings, where the wood thrush nests
- parasitic behaviour from brown-headed cowbirds, which lay their eggs in the nests of the wood thrush (and other birds), and whose young are fed by the host thrush at the expense of their own young
Loss and the breaking up of forests in the bird’s winter habitat may also be a threat to the wood thrush.
Action we are taking
Special concern species do not receive species or habitat protection.
What you can do
Report a sighting
- Report a sighting of an endangered animal or plant to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful.
- Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
Be a good steward
- Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
- Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit: www.bsc-eoc.org.
- The Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program is available to farmers registered under the Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan to encourage greater protection and conservation of habitat for species at risk. Find more information at www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/environment/efp/efp.htm.
Report illegal activity
- Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
- The wood thrush may nest and raise young two and occasionally even three times in the course of a single season.
- Research suggests that these birds take different routes for their migration south in the fall and their return in the spring. The spring route is further west, along the Mississippi valley, while the fall route follows the Atlantic coast.
- The wood thrush has a loud, flute-clear “ee-oh-lay” song. For the last of the three sounds, this bird sings pairs of notes simultaneously, one from each branch of its Y-shaped voice box.
- While many male songbirds answer a neighbour’s song with the same song, the male wood thrush will almost always answer a rival’s song with a different one.
- The brown-headed cowbird sometimes lays its eggs in the nests of wood thrushes, which then raise the young cowbirds. Brown-headed cowbirds lay eggs in the nests of more than 220 species of birds.