The Wood Thrush’s haunting, flutelike song—a beloved feature of eastern forests—is heard in fewer and fewer places each year.

Wood Thursh map, NatureServeOlder generations of Americans probably remember the beautiful “ee-oh-lay” song of the Wood Thrush as a fixture of summertime. Historically, the species was common, and the many woodlands that dotted the landscape could be assured of the singing birds.

Today, the song is heard much less frequently. Wood Thrush population surveys from 1966 to 2009 show a continent-wide decline of almost two percent each year. This suggests an overall population decrease of some 50 percent.

Behind the Wood Thrush Decline

Like its close relatives, the Hermit and Swainson's Thrushes, this spot-breasted thrush nests near the forest floor. As a result, it's frequently in danger of predation, especially by an increasing number of free-roaming and feral cats.

Wood Thrush nest and feed near and on the forest floor. As a result, the birds are frequently in danger of predation. Photo by Ryan Sanderson

Wood Thrush nest and feed near and on the forest floor. As a result, the birds are frequently in danger of predation. Photo by Ryan Sanderson

Non-native predators such as pet cats, as well as naturally occurring predators like jays, crows, and raccoons, more easily find the birds and their nests today. The reason: habitat fragmentation that opens the way into the forest.

Brown-headed Cowbirds also take advantage of fragmented forests, finding the nests and laying their eggs in them, to the detriment of the thrushes' young.

The problems of habitat loss and fragmentation go on and on. (Read more about threats to Wood Thrush and other migratory birds.) For example, plants that don't occur naturally in a given forest gain ground and replace the native species that provide food for the birds. Deer, which prefer forest edges, multiply in fragmented forests and degrade the bird's breeding habitat.

Sign up for ABC's eNews to learn how you can help protect birds

Bird and Coffee Connection

Wood Thrush migrate south to Central America. There, the loss of lowland tropical forests has reduced wintering habitat as well. Like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, this thrush is known to use shade-grown coffee farms, which preserve some native trees and bird habitat. One easy way to help the Wood Thrush is to buy only Bird-Friendly coffee grown on certified farms.

A 2014 Watch List species, the Wood Thrush is a priority for our International Program. We work with partners throughout Latin America to create protected bird reserves, with El Jaguar in Nicaragua and many other ABC-supported reserves known to support wintering Wood Thrush, along with Golden-winged Warbler and many other species. We're also working with landowners in Appalachia to create favorable habitat for this and other birds.

Get Involved

We welcome all and every effort to help us "bring back the birds." If you would like to make a donation, please click here. Or visit our Get Involved page to learn more about how you can help. Together, we can make a difference for this special bird.

Donate to support ABC's conservation mission!