Bird GuideThrushesSwainson's Thrush

At a Glance

During the peak of migration, Swainson's Thrushes are often very common in woodlots and parks, lurking in the thickets, slipping into fruiting trees to pluck berries. Although they tend to stay out of sight, the patient birder eventually can see them well enough to discern the bold buffy eye-rings that give these birds their alert or startled look. Like the other brown thrushes, Swainson's migrate mostly at night, and their distinctive callnotes can be heard from overhead on clear nights during spring and fall.
Perching Birds, Thrushes
Low Concern
Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flitter

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Spring migration relatively late and spread over a long period, some northbound birds still passing through southern states at beginning of June.


6 1/2 -7 3/4" (17-20 cm). Usually shows bold buff eye-ring, buff at sides of chest. Back usually olive-brown (a bit redder along Pacific Coast). Winters in tropics; similar birds seen in winter are probably Hermit Thrushes.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Song a series of reedy spiraling notes inflected upward.
Call Pattern
Rising, Undulating
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Flute, Hi, Whistle


Spruce forests and dense streamside woods; in migration, other woods. Breeds in far north and in mountains in coniferous forest with extensive leafy undergrowth; on Pacific Coast, also breeds in deciduous trees and thickets growing along streams. Occurs in many kinds of woodlands in migration. Winters in tropical forest.



3-4, rarely 5. Pale blue, with brown spots sometimes concentrated at larger end; sometimes almost unmarked. Incubation is by female, about 12-14 days.


Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-13 days after hatching.

Feeding Behavior

Does much feeding on ground, but not as much as the other brown thrushes. Also forages in trees, and may hover momentarily to take insects from foliage or may catch them in mid-air.


Mostly insects and berries. In North America, feeds on a variety of insects including beetles, ants, caterpillars, crickets, wasps, flies, moths, and others, also spiders and other invertebrates. Berries and fruits amount to over one-third of summer diet. Winter diet in tropics not well known, but often found in fruiting trees there.


Male arrives on breeding grounds and establishes territory, defending it by singing. In aggressive display during encounters with intruders on territory, he sleeks down his feathers and points bill up. Nest: Usually placed on a horizontal branch, 2-10' above the ground, sometimes lower or much higher (rarely up to 30'). Often nests in conifers in the east and north, deciduous trees or shrubs in the west. Nest (built by female alone) is a bulky open cup of twigs, bark strips, moss, grass, leaves, sometimes with some mud added. Lined with bark fibers, lichens, animal hair, other soft materials.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Has declined as a breeding bird along parts of the Pacific Coast and elsewhere. Overall populations probably stable. Could be vulnerable to loss of habitat on breeding grounds.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Swainson's Thrush. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Swainson's Thrush

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.