Catharus guttatus faxoni, C. g. euborius, C. g. munroi, C. g. auduboni, C. g. oromelus/guttatus
Status: Uncommon regular spring migrant east and central, rare west. Uncommon regular fall migrant east and west, rare casual central. Rare winter visitor southeast, rare casual elsewhere.
Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM6670, 9 Apr 1900 Lancaster Co (faxoni).
Taxonomy: A total of 12 subspecies are generally recognized, separated into three groups: Western Lowlands, including guttatus, nanus, verecundas, vaccinius, slevini, jewetti, and oromelus, Western Mountains, including sequoiensis, polionotus, and auduboni, and Northern, including faxoni, euborius,and munroi (Phillips 1991, Clements et al 2016, Gill and Donsker 2017, Pyle 1997, Dellinger et al 2020).
There are several Hermit Thrush subspecies that might occur in Nebraska.
Among the medium-sized, rufescent Northern Group, migrants in at least eastern Nebraska are presumably faxoni (formerly pallasii), which breeds across most of the northern United States and Canada west to British Columbia. This subspecies is rare in eastern Colorado and presumably in at least the Nebraska Panhandle; only about 3% of migrant Hermit Thrushes in eastern Colorado are faxoni (6/178; Steven Mlodinow, pers. comm.). The female specimen cited above (ZM6670) was identified by Oberholser as auduboni (Bruner et al 1904), but its measurements (wing 95, tail 70) do not eliminate the far more likely (on geographic grounds) faxoni. Further, the date of collection, 9 Apr, is about two weeks before auduboni appears in eastern Colorado in spring (Steven Mlodinow data; pers. comm.). Phillips (1991) did not examine this specimen. As yet, there is no tangible evidence that euborius or munroi have occurred in Nebraska, although they must certainly occur at least as fall migrants and occasional winter visitors; measurements broadly overlap those of faxoni. Euborius breeds from central Alaska south and east to intermountain British Columbia, and munroi breeds south of euborius in the Rocky Mountains of southwest Alberta and northwest Montana. Both subspecies migrate on the Great Plains west to Colorado and east to Wisconsin and Illinois (Phillips 1991), and winter on the southern Great Plains east to North Carolina and northern Florida. Phillips (1991) cited a 29 Jan specimen of euborius from Riley Co, Kansas.
Among the larger, pale gray Western Mountains Group, it has been assumed (Sharpe et al 2001) that grayish Hermit Thrushes in western Nebraska are likely eastward stragglers of the Rocky Mountains subspecies auduboni, but accumulating evidence suggests that Hermit Thrushes found at any distance from the Colorado and Wyoming foothills are as likely to be migrants from the Pacific Northwest (Jon King, personal communication), most of which are measurably smaller than auduboni. As yet, there are no records supported by mensural evidence for occurrence of auduboni in Nebraska, although Phillips (1991) cited a specimen from Finney Co, Kansas, and there are numerous reports with photographs from northeast Colorado (eBird.org, accessed October 2017). Steven Mlodinow records (pers. comm.) show auduboni in eastern Colorado away from the foothills to comprise about 60% of migrant Hermit Thrushes mostly in the periods 21 Apr-17 May and 15 Sep-15 Oct, with only 1-2 in Nov. Nebraska records are of one well-described in Kimball Co 29 Sep 2019 (Mlodinow, eBird.org) and one, surprisingly, photographed in northeastern Nebraska 8 May 2018 (Mark Brogie, pers. comm.), as well as a few spring and fall sight records from western Nebraska (below). Phillips did not examine three specimens assigned to auduboni collected in Nebraska (UNSM ZM6670) and Iowa; two “probable auduboni” at the University of Iowa were misidentified.
Also, among the Western Mountains Group, the northern California montane race sequoiensis has reportedly been collected in Lane Co, Kansas, as well as in North Dakota and Oklahoma (AOU 1957); these reports, however, were discredited by Phillips (1991). Sequoiensis breeds in northeast California and winters in southeast Arizona; there are no reports of migrants on the Great Plains, and it seems unlikely to occur in Nebraska.
Among the smaller, browner Western Lowlands Group, occurrence of oromelus and guttatus is likely. Oromelus breeds from southern British Columbia to northeast California and northwest Montana and winters in southern New Mexico and southern Texas (Dellinger et al 2012, Phillips 1991). Phillips (1991) included southwest Kansas in its migration corridor. Guttatus breeds from coastal southern Alaska and, inland or away from islands, south to British Columbia, and winters along the Pacific Coast from Oregon south to Baja California Sur and east through Arizona to eastern Texas (Dellinger et al 2020). Phillips identified eight of ten specimens from western Kansas as guttatus (Jon King, personal communication), and stated (1991) that guttatus occurred as a migrant in southwest Kansas, citing a 7 May specimen at University of Kansas. There are 13 specimens of oromelus for Colorado, 10 of which are from the eastern lowlands (Leukering and Mlodinow 2017) as well as a small number of records of the “guttatus group” from extreme northeast Colorado (eBird.org, accessed October 2017). Leukering and Mlodinow (2017) state that “these forms may account for the lion’s share of early-season [Mar-early Apr] Hermit Thrush occurrences in [Colorado]”, especially since conditions in higher elevations are not condusive to arrival before late Apr-early May of auduboni, the breeding subspecies there. Steven Mlodinow data (pers. comm.) show about 34% of migrant Hermit Thrushes in eastern Colorado are of the “guttatus (Dwarf) Group”; these birds are earlier spring and later fall migrants than auduboni, and there are five winter records.
The measurements of two female specimens at UNSM (ZM6666 and ZM 6667) that were collected in Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co 8 Oct 1920 are of interest; ZM6666 is assignable to either oromelus or guttatus, but ZM6667 is small and within the mensural limits of guttatus but not oromelus. Michael Novak, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, provided photographs and measurements of a hatch year Hermit Thrush banded at Chadron SP, Dawes Co 26 Sep 2013; the measurements clearly eliminate auduboni and are probably safely assignable to either male or female oromelus or male guttatus. Silcock (2013), in discussing this record, did not consider guttatus, based on the grayish rather than brownish flanks of the bird; this feature might also mitigate against the possibility of a guttatus/faxoni intergrade. Movements of oromelus and guttatus would parallel those of the group of western Nebraska migrants that includes Cassin’s Vireo and Townsend’s Warbler, all of which breed in the same Pacific Northwest region.
Complicating matters are foxing (browning of specimens as they age) of Catharus specimens (Phillips 1991) and a probable zone of intergradation between guttatus and faxoni in the northern Rocky Mountains. Kansas specimens from Manhattan and Kansas City are intermediate, and intergrades are thought to migrate east to the central plains then south (Jon King, personal communication).
Spring: Mar 10,11,12 <<<>>> May 17,18,21 (east and east-central), Mar 26,27,30 <<<>>> Jun 3,3,4 (west and west-central)
Earlier reports that may be migrants or wintering birds are 7 Mar 2016 Fremont, Dodge Co, and 8 Mar 2016 Conestoga Lake, Lancaster Co.
This species is an early migrant, arriving in early Apr and departing in mid-May in the east and somewhat later elsewhere. It migrates statewide, but is rare in the west; Rosche (1982) observed only one in eight years of field work in the northwest Panhandle. Panhandle reports, especially later dates, may be of auduboni, although there is as yet no tangible evidence for its occurrence in Nebraska other than reports of birds identified as this subspecies: one was in Long Canyon, Banner Co 6 May 2000, two were at Wind Springs Ranch, Sioux Co 2 May 2001, two were at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 21-22 May 2013, and one was in Scotts Bluff Co 23 May 2016.
There is a report of a singing bird in a thickly wooded tributary canyon of the Niobrara River Valley in southeast Keya Paha Co 1 Jul 2016; the observer was unable to record the song. There is a single record of nesting in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1966 (Tallman et al 2002).
- High counts: 25 at Wilderness and Pioneers Parks, Lincoln, 20 Apr 2013, 20 at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 5 Apr 2009, 14 in Elmwood Park, Omaha 15 Apr 2018, 14 at Chalco Hills RA, Sarpy Co 11 Apr 2019, and 14 at Camp Wakonda, Sarpy Co 14 Apr 2019.
Fall: Sep 3, 3, 3 <<<>>> Oct 20, 29, Nov 1 (west); Sep 22, 23, 23 <<<>>> Oct 20, 29, Nov 1 (central and northeast), Sep 22, 23, 23 <<<>>> winter (southeast).
Migrants arrive in early Sep in the Panhandle and by late Sep in the east; a bird unidentified to subspecies was at NNF Bessey, Thomas Co 10 Sep 2002, and one identified as faxoni was at Lake Ogallala, Keith Co 26 Oct 2000. At Barr Lake, Colorado, where auduboni might be expected to predominate, Andrews et al (2002) cite 209 fall banding records of Hermit Thrush; 41 adults occurred 19 Sep-18 Oct and 168 immatures 7 Sep-5 Nov. Departure in Nebraska generally is completed by mid-Nov, although there are several Nov and Dec reports for the species, most from the east and probably individuals attempting to overwinter (see Winter).
- High counts: 8 in the Panhandle 11 Oct 2000, and 4 in Washington Co 13 Oct 1996.
Winter: There are numerous reports for Nov and Dec; most Dec reports are from CBCs, with best counts five at Lincoln, Lancaster Co 18 Dec 2005 and four at DeSoto NWR, Washington Co 20 Dec 2003.
Reports of over-wintering are few and restricted to the south and east: one wintered in Lancaster Co 1974-75 (Williams 1975), 1-2 were at Branched Oak Lake, Lancaster Co 1-24 Jan 2016, two were at Lake Ogallala 16 Dec 1999-29 Jan 2000, singles wintered 2002-2003, 2005-2006, and 2007-2008 at the same yard in Bellevue, Sarpy Co where they were visiting a heated birdbath through 29 Mar in 2003, 6 Feb in 2006, and 13 Feb in 2008 (Sue Gentes, personal communication), and one wintered at a site with a heated bird-bath at Neale Woods, Douglas Co, at least through 8 Feb 2004.
There are numerous additional mid-winter reports 1 Jan-25 Feb, mostly in the southeast. Away from the southeast, there are these reports 1 Jan-25 Feb: 1 Jan 2009 Ponca SP, Dixon Co, 1 Jan 2020 Ash Hollow SHP, Garden Co, 2 Jan 2016 Lake McConaughy CBC, 3 Jan 2009 Lake Ogallala, 15 Jan 2015 Grove Lake SRA, Antelope Co, two at Lake Ogallala 16 Dec 1999-29 Jan 2000, one at Sutherland Reservoir, Lincoln Co 2 Feb 2019, 13 Feb 2000 Buffalo Co, two on 13 Feb 2015 Dundy Co, and 19 Feb 1992 Thomas Co (Grzybowski 1992).
Mar reports are few: 1 Mar 1981 Douglas Co, 1 Mar 1994 Sarpy Co, 9 Mar 1970 Lancaster Co, and 9 Mar 2004 Wind Springs Ranch, Sioux Co.
CBC: Christmas Bird Count
SP: State Park
SRA: State Recreation Area
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
Photograph (top) of a Hermit Thrush at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 10 Apr 2010 by Phil Swanson.
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Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.
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Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2020. Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus), Version 1.0. In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org
Birds of Nebraska – Online