The hermit thrush is the only Catharus expected north of central Mexico in winter. Polytypic. Length 6.8".
The slow tail lift of the hermit is distinctive in the genus. Adult: in eastern faxoni, upperparts brown with moderate rufous wash. Eye ring whitish, occasionally not complete in front. Loral area darker than on other Catharus and not contrasting. Lateral throat stripes black, contrasting with white throat. Tail distinctly reddish, contrasting with upperparts. Distinct black spotting on generally white chest. Sides and flanks washed buffy-brown; brownish gray in other races. Wing panel rufous and moderately contrasting. Bill dark with pinkish base to mandible. Juvenile: spotted whitish to buff above, blackish below; some older immatures distinguishable by presence of retained juvenal wing coverts with buffy shaft streak; beware adults with cinnamon greater coverts tips in fresh plumage.
Thirteen subspecies in 3 subspecies groups. Subspecific identification in field problematic due to slight differences and individual variation, but separation to group more likely. Lowland Pacific group includes guttatus (coastal southern Alaska to western British Columbia), nanus (southern Alaska islands), verecundus (Queen Charlotte Islands), vaccinius (coastal southwestern British Columbia and northwestern Washington), jewetti (northwestern. Washington to northwestern California), slevini (interior south-central Washington to west-central California), munroi (central British Columbia and western Alberta to northern Montana), and oromelus (interior southern British Columbia east to northwestern Montana and south to northeastern California). All with backs gray to brown and pale to dark, with little to no reddish aspect, and with richly-colored tails. Interior Western Montane group includes sequoiensis (Sierra Nevada of California), polionotus (eastern California east to northwestern Utah and Arizona), and auduboni (southeastern Washington east to southern Montana, south to southern Arizona and New Mexico and western Texas). All with pale, grayish brown backs and duller, less contrasting tails; the last subspecies having distinctive buff undertail coverts. Northern group includes faxoni (southern Northwest Territories south to southern Alberta, east to Newfoundland and Maryland) and euborius (central Alaska and northern British Columbia).
Some similarity to gray-cheeked, Bicknell’s, and Swainson’s thrushes.
Call: soft, low blackbirdlike chuck; also a rising, whiny catbirdlike wheeee. Flight note: clear, somewhat complaining peew. Song: flutelike; begins with long, clear whistle followed by series of rather clear phrases; successive songs often alternate pitch direction of song, rising then falling.
Status and Distribution
Common. Breeding: typically in conifer-dominated forests, usually in areas of relatively little undergrowth; also in deciduous forests. Migration: medium- to long-distance migrant, with western montane breeders wintering farthest south (to southern Guatemala). Early migrant in spring, with southern Great Lakes peak ±25 April; arrival in farthest reaches of breeding range ±10 May, though with stragglers still in West in early June. Fall: western montane birds begin migration in early September, but faxoni and guttatus group peak in East ±15 October. Western subspecies winter in coastal states from Washington south to southern Guatemala; faxoni group winters in Southeast (from southern New Jersey south), a few to southern Midwest, south to northeastern Mexico. Vagrant: regular to Bering Sea islands in migration and to Bermuda fall through spring; accidental north to northern Alaska and Canada, Greenland, Greater Antilles, and Europe.
Apparently more adaptable than other brown thrushes; there has been little expressed concern.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006