Myadestes townsendi townsendi
Status: Rare casual breeder northwest. Common regular winter resident and spring and fall migrant west, uncommon central, rare casual east.
Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM6699, 19 Feb 1896 Harrison, Sioux Co.
Taxonomy: Two subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997), one in Mexico; the other, townsendi, breeds and winters throughout North America range. Nebraska birds are townsendi.
Spring: winter <<<>>> Apr 2, 5, 6 (east), winter <<<>>> May 25, 25, 26 (west and central)
Departure from wintering grounds occurs by mid-Mar in the east and in the Panhandle by late May. There are later reports in the east 10-11 Apr 1997 Neale Woods, Douglas Co, 17 Apr 2006 Dakota Co, 17 Apr 2017 Meridian WMA, Thayer Co, 7 May 1961 Nemaha Co, 19 May 1982 Lancaster Co, and 28 May 1994 Nemaha Co, and in the central 29 May 1937 Lincoln Co.
Summer: At the end of the 19th century, this species occurred as a breeder in northern Sioux Co, occupying the various wooded riparian canyons that drain the Pine Ridge into the Hat Creek Basin (Bruner et al 1904). Two nests were found in Monroe Canyon in 1900, and a pair was seen the next summer (Crawford 1901). Although it is not clear that significant changes in habitat have occurred, the species now occurs there only casually during the breeding season. It breeds in the Black Hills of South Dakota (Tallman et al 2002) and the Laramie Mountains in southeast Wyoming (Faulkner 2010).
Recent evidence of possible breeding activity in Sioux and Dawes Cos has been inconclusive. In 1986 Rosche found a nest with eggs on 31 May (Williams 1986, Ducey 1988) in Hat Creek Canyon, Sioux Co; this nest was unsuccessful (Richard Rosche, personal communication). Apart from this report, since 1900 there have been several sightings of adults and flying young, including an adult and a juvenile in Monroe Canyon, Sioux Co 18-20 Jul 1979 (Fickel 1979) and a juvenile seen flying strongly in Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co 22 Jul 1980 (Rosche 1982). Rosche (1982) suggested these juveniles were not necessarily fledged in Nebraska, but possibly nearby in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Since then, adults suspected of carrying food were seen at Chadron SP, Dawes Co and in East Monroe Canyon, Sioux Co on separate occasions in recent years; no nests were found despite extensive searches (Wayne Mollhoff, personal communication). A flying juvenile was seen along Pants Butte Road, Sioux Co on 31 Jul 2012.
There are several additional breeding season reports 20 May-2 Aug for Sioux and Dawes Cos without evidence of nesting. Recent sightings include singles in Dawes Co 30 May 2013 and 30 Jun 2009 and one in Sioux Co 14 Jun 2014 (Bird Conservancy of the Rockies), one photographed at Ponderosa WMA, Dawes Co 16 Jun 2019 (eBird.org) and one at NNF Halsey, Thomas Co 18 Jun 2014 (eBird.org).
Further east, one at Metcalf WMA, Sheridan Co 12 Jun 2011 may have been breeding or merely a very late migrant; another was one heard on a Western Wood-Pewee recording at NNF Halsey 18 Jun 2016. Rosche (1994) cited a report (Benckeser 1948) of at least one bird in cedars east of Ogallala, Keith Co 18 Jul 1948, and suggested that an occasional nesting attempt in the area “would not be too surprising.”
Fall: Aug 23, 25, 25 <<<>>> winter (west and central), Nov 10, 11, 13 <<<>>> winter (east)
Solitaires arrive in the Panhandle in late Aug, reaching the east in small numbers most years by late Nov. There are early reports in the east 27 Aug 2010 Otoe Co, and 28 Sep 1995 Douglas Co, 15 Oct 2005 Webster Co, 16 Oct 2017 Dixon Co, 24 Oct 2006 Cedar Co, 25 Oct 2014 Lancaster Co, 4 Nov 2007 Hamilton Co, and one photographed on 5 Nov 2017 Lancaster Co.
Winter: CBC data show that highest densities of wintering solitaires occur in the Panhandle, with lower densities occurring throughout the rest of the state, declining sharply eastward. Wintering birds are mostly, if not all, altitudinal migrants, presumably from South Dakota and Wyoming, which accounts for the variability of wintering numbers resulting from varying severity of winter weather. Winter 2015-2016 was a low numbers year for this species; the Scottsbluff CBC 19 Dec found only one, and only 24 (14 of these at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co) were found on all 2015-2016 CBCs, none east of North Platte, Lincoln Co.
This species wintered “eastward over the entire state” around 1900 (Bruner et al 1904), a status which is unchanged to the present, although pooled statewide CBC data show an increase in birds per party-hour beginning in the early 1990s.
- High counts: 157 on the Lake McConaughy CBC 2 Jan 2006, 94 on that CBC 29 Dec 2007, and 50+ in southeast Lincoln Co 29 Dec 2003.
CBC: Christmas Bird Count
NNF: Nebraska National Forest
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)
Benckeser, H.R. 1948. News from Brule. NBR 16: 94-96.
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.
Crawford, J.C., Jr. 1901. Results of a collecting trip to Sioux County. Proceeding of the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union 2: 76-79.
Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.
Faulkner, D.W. 2010. Birds of Wyoming. Roberts and Company, Greenwood Village, Colorado, USA.
Fickel, T. 1979. Townsend’s Solitaires in Sioux County, Nebraska. NBR 47: 68-69.
Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.
Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.
Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska. Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.
Tallman, D.A., Swanson, D.L., and J.S. Palmer. 2002. Birds of South Dakota. Midstates/Quality Quick Print, Aberdeen, South Dakota, USA.
Williams, F. 1986. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 40: 491-494.
Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2020. Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi), Version 1.0. In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org
Birds of Nebraska – Online