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Gray-cheeked Thrush

(Catharus minimus)
Banded September 24, 1997 - Carmel, Indiana

General Information

The Gray-cheeked Thrush is a Neotropical migrant resident to the northern regions of South America from Columbia and Venezuela south to Peru and northwestern Brazil. It migrates the longest distance of all small thrushes to its preferred breeding grounds in the boreal forests and arctic regions of Canada and Alaska.


During migration, it makes its way to North America, following routes mostly in the eastern two thirds of the US. On migration, it is shy but common and can be found in virtually any kind of habitat.

Gray-cheeked Thrush
Figure 1 - Gray-cheeked Thrush


Gray-cheeked Thrush
Figure 2 - Gray-cheeked Thrush


These birds feed on berries, insects and other invertebrates.

The Gray-cheeked Thrush is very similar to the Swainson’s Thrush, but lacks the bold eye ring and buffy lores. The similar but smaller Bicknell’s Thrush breeds in the northeast US and Canada, usually in spruce-fir habitat above 3,000 feet.

Facial Pattern
Figure 3 - Facial Pattern


Head, Throat and Breast
Figure 4 - Head, Throat and Breast


Sexes are similar.

The upper parts are gray brown with some olive.

Upper Wing Coverts
Figure 5 - Upper Wing Coverts


Primary Flight Feathers
Figure 6 - Primary Flight Feathers


The Gray-cheeked Thrush has 10 primary flight feathers. The tenth primary (not shown here) is usually shorter than the primary coverts (shown in Fig. 5). Primary 6 (fourth feather from the right) may show slight emargination on the leading edge.

Immature birds often show buffy shaft streaks (shown here) and buffy tips to the greater coverts (see Figs. 2 & 5). Adult birds lack these features.

Figure 7 - Buffy Shaft Streaks on Coverts


Underwing Coverts
Figure 8 - Underwing Coverts


Note the broad cream-colored band on the under wing, and the brownish gray flank.

Undertail coverts of the Gray-cheeked Thrush.

Undertail Coverts
Figure 9 - Undertail Coverts


Nesting Behavior

Sexes are similar. The female builds a nest of dry grasses and other plant material usually near the ground in a fork in a small shrub. The female incubates 3 to 5 eggs that hatch in about 2 weeks. Both parents care for the young that leave the nest in about a week and a half.

Banding Recoveries

According to data at the Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, MD, a total of 80,650 birds have been banded and released. Of these, only 13 have been recovered. This is a recovery rate of 0.016%

Conservation Status

Little data is available on populations trends for this species. Here at Chipper Woods, these birds are regularly caught and banded during the migratory period. Each September/October brings a number of hatching year birds, suggesting successful breeding. Their diet of beetles, weevils, ants caterpillars, cicadas and other helps to control destructive insect pests. Their habit of eating berries contributes to propagation of plants as undigested seeds are transported to other locations.

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