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Wood Thrush

Hylocichla mustelina

Length: 8 inches Wingspan: 13.5 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: White underparts with round spots, brown upperparts, white eyering around large dark eye, reddish brown nape and crown

Wood Thrush - Hylocichla mustelinaWood Thrushes are probably best known for their clear fluty calls heard from the early spring through the summer. Dedicated songsters, the male may start singing early in the morning before the sun rises, and likewise may sing until just after sunset. They are primarily found in deciduous forests, but can sometimes be found in heavily vegetated residential areas.  Numbers have seriously declined in recent decades (see status notes below).

In South Dakota, Wood Thrush are primarily known from the far southeastern part of the state, where they are summer breeders in select locations. They are relatively rare migrants elsewhere in the state.

Habitat: Wood Thrush are primarily found in the undergrowth of deciduous forests, but also sometimes in mixed coniferous and deciduous forest.  Found more often in lowland forests near water than in dryer upland forests.

Diet: Insects, fruits, and berries.  Also will feed on spiders, snails, and earthworms.  The summer diet is weighted more heavily towards insects and invertebrates, while on their wintering grounds, fruits and berries may make up a majority of the diet.


Does most of its foraging down on the ground, where they'll move through leaf litter, flipping vegetative material around as they look for insects and small invertebrates. They will also forage for fruits and berries up in trees and shrubs.


June and July. The nest of a Wood thrush is typically placed in a shrub or branches of a tree, in an area where dense foliage provides concealment and protection. The nest is a cup, built of grasses, leaves, and moss as a foundation, and then lined and bound together with mud. The inside is then lined with fine rootlets and small grasses. The female lays between 2 and 5 eggs, and she alone incubates them. Incubation takes 12 to 14 days, and the young fledge from the nest about 12-14 days after hatching.


The "standard" phonetic representation of a Wood Thrush song is a three-phrase song with ee-oo-lay as the middle phrase. However, there can be substantial variation from a general theme, with individual male Wood Thrush even singing different songs. Wood Thrush also have various calls given when threatened, or around the nest.


Wood Thrush summers throughout most of the eastern half of the United States.  They winter in Central America and southern Mexico. In South Dakota, they are found as summer breeding birds in the far southeastern part of the state, while are rare migrants elsewhere.

Interactive eBird map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Wood Thrush sightings

Similar Species:

There are a number of thrush species that are either summer breeding residents in South Dakota, or are frequent migrants. The following are the species most likely to be confused with a Wood Thrush:

Hermit Thrush 1 - Catharus guttatus Swainson's Thrush 15 - Catharus ustulatus Swainson's Thrush 18 - Catharus ustulatus Veery 5 - Catharus fuscescens
Hermit Thrush Swainson's Thrush Swainson's Thrush Veery

South Dakota Hotspot:

Newton Hills State Park always has breeding Wood Thrush in the summer months. The picnic shelter at the end of the Sergeant Creek trail is an area where I have always heard and seen Wood Thrush from mid-May and into the summer months. Other similar, heavily wooded parks and riparian areas in the far southeastern part of the state are good places to look, including Good Earth State Park. Despite being two areas I bird a lot in the spring and early summer, for some reason I have not found Wood Thrush at the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls or the Big Sioux Recreation Area, despite both areas having some seemingly suitable forest area.

Conservation Status:

Populations have shown sharp declines in recent decades.  Wood Thrushes are common Brown-headed Cowbird hosts, and in many areas, Wood Thrushes end up raising more Cowbirds than they do their own species.  Habitat fragmentation has probably played a very significant role in this decline.  As forests become more fragmented, Cowbirds, which don't inhabit dense forest, have greater access to forests because of increased forest edges.  This provides them with greater access to Wood Thrush nests. Despite the sharp population declines in recent decades, there are indications populations are stabilizing in recent years. Due to this, the IUCN changed their characterization of the Wood Thrush from "Near Threatened" in 2017, to "Least Concern" in subsequent years.

Further Information:

Photo Information:

June 3rd, 2017 - Newton Hills State Park, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Wood Thrush photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Wood Thrush - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon summer breeding resident in the southeastern part of the state.  Rare migrant elsewhere in the east, accidental in the west.

Additional Wood Thrush Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos 

Wood Thrush 1 - Hylocichla mustelinaWood Thrush 2 - Hylocichla mustelinaWood Thrush 3 - Hylocichla mustelinaWood Thrush 4 - Hylocichla mustelinaWood Thrush 5 - Hylocichla mustelinaWood Thrush 6 - Hylocichla mustelina