Townsend’s Solitaire

Myadestes townsendi
Range Map

The Townsend’s Solitaire breeds in a variety of montane coniferous forest types, up to and even above the tree line. Fall migration is often more of a descent in elevation than in latitude. In spring, many of these birds migrate as far north as Alaska, but winters find them from southern Canada to northern Mexico in western North America. Their winter range includes many locations where they remain year-round.

A carnivore in spring and summer, these birds switch from insects to fruits and berries, especially Juniper berries in winter. These thrushes behave more like flycatchers in the breeding season. From perches atop tall trees, they fly out to snag insects in the air, then fly back to their perch.

Today, science recognised two subspecies of Townsend’s Solitaire:

  • M. t. townsendi breeds in Alaska and western Canada and south into the southwestern USA. They spend winters from southern Canada to northern Mexico.
  • M. t. calophonus lives in the mountains of northern and central Mexico.

My first meeting with this species was on Santa Rosa Mountain in southern California, but since then I’ve found them in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Years later, in northwestern Wyoming, I learned the songs they issued from the highest perches available. Having a familiarity with their songs, I found them by ear near Glenwood in western New Mexico, as I was traveling to Texas for my second expedition in as many years. My most recent meeting with these birds came one month later and was perhaps the most fun of all. I left New Mexico and entered Texas at the Guadalupe Mountains, and found a quiet place to sit and enjoy a variety of birds on the lower slopes. Townsend’s Solitaires were among the birds there to greet me.

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