This species’ ethereal song is a distinctive aspect of wet northwestern forests. Polytypic. Length 9.5".
Orange legs and dark bill with yellow mandible base. Male: blue-gray above, orange below, with broad orange supercilia, black auriculars and chest band, complicated pattern of orange-on-black wings, and gray scalloping on flanks and lower belly. Female: similar but upperparts brown; auriculars mostly dark gray; thinner, indistinct chest band gray; wings brown. Juvenile: similar to adult females, but chest heavily scalloped with dark gray-brown; central belly white. Older immatures similar to adults, though males less blue above, females browner; all have browner tails. Flight: similar to the American robin, but orange-and-black wing linings and bold orange wing stripe.
Four subspecies in North America based on female plumages; northern meruloides paler; north Pacific coastal naevius and carlottae upperparts darker, tawny tinged, underparts orange; southern interior godfreii paler, upperparts reddish tinged.
American robin has no wing pattern, lacks orange throat and supercilium and flank pattern of varied thrush. In flight Townsend's solitaire’s wing pattern quite similar, but species is thinner, with long, thin, white-edged tail. See Siberian accentor.
Call: a low tschook similar to hermit thrush, but harder; a high kipf; a thin, mournful whistle, woooeee. Flight note: short, humming whistle. Song: series of long, eerie whistles of 1 pitch, with successive notes at different pitch and long inter-note intervals.
Status and Distribution
Common. Breeding: nests in moist, typically conifer-dominated, habitats in Northwest; in tall willow riparian north of treeline. Migration: short- to medium-distance migrant with some only moving altitudinally. Spring: departs southern winter areas ±15 March, though some still there early May; arrives western Alaska ±30 April. Fall: departs northern breeding areas ±15 September; first arrivals in southern wintering areas ±10 October. Winter: coastal Alaska to southern California and parts of northern Rockies; rare south and east of southern Rockies. Vagrant: subspecies meruloides rare, but regular fall and winter vagrant to East, particularly northern tier of states and southern Canada. Casual to Bering Sea islands; accidental to Iceland and United Kingdom.
Logging in breeding range may be negatively impacting birds.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006