Catharus Ustulatus – Swainson’s Thrush

Catharus Ustulatus - Swainson's Thrush found in the throughout United States

Swainson’s thrush, Catharus ustulatus alternately known as Olive-backed or russet-backed thrush, is a medium-sized thrush. It is a member of the genus Catharus and is characterized by its muted coloring and lovely rising flute-like song. Swainson’s thrush was named after English naturalist William Swainson.

Quick Overview: Catharus Ustulatus – Swainson’s Thrush
Body size: Around 6-7 in (15-18 cm) and a weight of 31 g (1.1 oz)
Main colors: White, Brownish-black, Olive, Red-Olive, Gray, Ash-brown
Range: Throughout the United States
Migratory Bird: Yes
Best time of the year to see in the U.S.: March, April, May, September, October, November
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Swainson’s Thrush Description

Olive-brownish upperparts, conspicuous buffy eye-ring, white underparts, and brownish-black markings on the neck and breast of this medium-sized thrush. Upper parts, including the tail, range in color from olive to reddish olive, gray olive, or ashy brown according to the region.

Catharus Ustulatus - Swainson's Thrush found in the throughout United States
Catharus Ustulatus – Swainson’s Thrush. Photo by: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren


These birds have a length of 6-7 in (15-18 cm) and a weight of 31 g (1.1 oz). Their wings could range from 11-12 in (28-30 cm).


Swainson’s Thrush, like other thrushes, is omnivorous, preferring insects in the spring and summer and fruits in the fall and winter. The primary insect diet includes beetles, caterpillars, and ants; few temperate songbirds use ants to the level that this and similar species do.


Swainson’s thrush breeds in coniferous woodlands with high undergrowth across Canada, Alaska, and the northern United States; it also breeds in deciduous forested regions along North America’s Pacific coast.


Swainson’s, like other brown thrushes, move mostly at night, and their characteristic call notes may be heard from above during the spring and fall.

Catharus Ustulatus Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Chelicerata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Turbidae
  • Genus: Catharus
  • Species: Catharus ustulatus

Other common names

These species are also known as Olive-backed or russet-backed thrush.

Best time of the year to see

The best time to see these birds in the United States is during migration in the Spring season (March-May) and during the Autumn season (September – November).

Distribution of the Swainson’s Thrush in the USA

Breeds from Alaska to Newfoundland, then south to British Columbia and along the west coast and the Rocky Mountains, as well as in northern New England. It may occur throughout North America and the Caribbean during migration.

The Swainson’s Thrush can be found in the following states in the United States – Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Catharus Ustulatus – Swainson’s Thrush

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