Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Identifying Swainson’s Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Hermit Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush, adult. April in Galveston County, Texas. Photo by Brian E. Small

On quiet nights in spring, if we stand outdoors and listen, we may hear the nocturnal flight calls of migratory songbirds drifting down from overhead. Especially in late May in eastern North America, one of the most characteristic sounds is the soft, bell-like whistle of Swainson’s Thrush. During a major flight we might hear dozens of them per hour, but the next morning it will take some work to find a fraction of those numbers: After landing at dawn, the shy brown thrushes seem to melt away into the thickets.

Identifying brown thrushes in migration is an annual challenge for birdwatchers. Swainson’s Thrush occurs throughout most of North America as a migrant, and it’s widespread in the North and West in summer, so observers everywhere have reason to study its ID points.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a BirdWatching member to access our first-rate articles and columns on bird ID and photography as well as quarterly webinars hosted by experts in the field.
Originally Published

Read our newsletter!

Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, attracting and ID tips, and more delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up for Free
Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife. His column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Kenn is also a field editor for Audubon Magazine and a contributor to Birds and Blooms. His work first appeared in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching) in April 1988. Visit his website, Kaufman Field Guides.

Kenn Kaufman on social media

Brian E. Small

Brian E. Small

Brian Small is a Los Angeles-based bird and nature photographer whose photos appear in the “ID Tips” column in every issue of BirdWatching. His work has been published in Time, The New York Times, Audubon, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications. His photos also illustrate many field guides, including Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America, a series of state bird identification guides published with the American Birding Association, and his own Eastern and Western photographic field guides to the birds of North America published in 2009 with author Paul Sterry and Princeton University Press.

Brian E. Small on social media