Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Gray-cheeked Thrush - Catharus minimus
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General Comments The Gray-cheeked Thrush was already a difficult species to identify -- separating it from Swainson's and Hermit thrushes and Veeries -- when the American Ornithologists' Union decided to make a controversial split of the Bicknell's Thrush from the Gray-cheeked in 1995. Thus, the south-easternmost population of the former Gray-cheeked Thrush "is no more", and reliably separating these two species often involves mist-netting. Gray-cheekeds nest across the northernmost conifer zone of Canada, preferring stunted trees scattered with muskegs/bogs. They do migrate through North Carolina in both spring and fall, generally avoiding most of the Coastal Plain; however, it has always been uncommon at best in the state. True numbers are best recorded through mist-netting or nocturnal flight calls. How many "Gray-cheekeds" reported now are actually Bicknell's is open to question, though the latter is believed to be quite scarce and limited mainly to the Coastal Plain (in migration). Gray-cheekeds (as well as other thrushes) are usually seen in migration in hardwood forests, preferably somewhat moist, with a moderate understory and shrub layer. Like with the Swainson's Thrush, Wood Thrush, and Veery, winter reports have been made in the state, nearly all by inexperienced persons, with little or no documentation.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient. Occurs over most of the province in spring and fall, but scarce. In spring, generally rare to uncommon in the western portions, and very rare to rare farther eastward. In fall, less often recorded (more secretive and ought to be at least as numerous as in spring), but likely rare to very uncommon across the region. Mainly early to late May, and mid-Sep to mid-Oct. Peak counts:

NOTE: As the recently-split Bicknell's Thrush is now known to be essentially found only in the state's Coastal Plain, the above summary relates to the "Gray-cheeked Thrush" complex (Gray-cheeked plus Bicknell's). It would be impossible to go back and review all of these records to determine which were actually Bicknell's and which were Gray-cheeked (current/strict sense).

Piedmont Transient. Occurs across the region in both spring and fall; mostly uncommon and easily overlooked. Many more published records in spring than in fall, but in reality, such is not the true abundance (and not nearly rare enough to have all reports published). Mainly early to late May, and late Sep to mid-Oct. Peak counts:
Mountains Transient. Rare to uncommon in both spring and fall, at least at low to middle elevations, and probably also at high elevations in fall. Mainly early to late May, and mid-Sep to mid-Oct. Peak counts:
Finding Tips Birders afield several times a week in spring and fall in the Piedmont or low mountains often find one to several in a year; as with most true songbird migrants, they can drop down at night just about anywhere. The best places to look are in fairly rich to mesic, mature hardwood forests, such as in some state parks in the Piedmont.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-27], LeGrand[2018-02-01], LeGrand[2013-12-12]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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