Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Bicknell's Thrush - Catharus bicknelli
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General Comments The Bicknell's Thrush breeds in New England and the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and it winters in the Greater Antilles; so, it seems likely that numbers of them regularly migrate through North Carolina, at least the eastern half of the state. However, the global population size is low for a songbird, and considerable concern is present about its long-term future. Great care should be exercised in the field, however, in light of the very close similarity to Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus), from which it was (controversially) split in 1995. An article discussing the status of both of these species in North Carolina is in [Chat 59:1-8 link]. Because of the near impossibility of identifying the two species, even by song or calls, the NC BRC has accepted only three modern records, all of birds caught in mist nets, measured, and banded (and one or two of them were photographed). Most of the 10 or more reports in print, or in listserves, do not contain enough information for a committee review; several with details have not been accepted. There have also been a few reports of birds calling overhead at night during migration identified as Bicknell's. Again, such reports cannot be easily confirmed. However, the species certainly is a regular migrant through the state's Coastal Plain, and possibly a very rare migrant in the Piedmont. Reports in migration in the Coastal Plain might not need committee review any longer; confirmed reports/records in the Piedmont and mountains are still lacking and will probably need NC BRC review.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G4
Coastal Plain Transient. Abundance unknown, but probably rare (to possibly uncommon), in both spring and fall. One was banded at Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center (Johnston) on 5 May 2004* [Chat 69:32 link]. Two individuals were banded at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve (Moore) -- one on 27 Sep 2001* [Chat 67:3 link], and one on 3 Oct 2008* [Chat 73:25 link]. One was window-killed at Edenton (Chowan) on 9 Oct 2019, and its leg band indicated it has been banded in Vermont in Jul 2015; it now is a specimen at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences [NCSM] [Chat 84:25 link]. The first conclusive record appears to be a specimen in the U.S. National Museum, recently examined by a taxonomic expert and compared with North Carolina specimens of Gray-cheeked, taken on 12 May 1939 about 5 miles southeast of Southport. Though photos of the specimen have been taken and sent to the NCSM, and seen by several Committee members, no vote has been taken, and it is assumed that the specimen record is correct. Thus, there are five definite records at the present time. The only other published records for the province seem to be one possible bird photographed on Roanoke Island (Dare) on 21 Oct 2011 [Chat 76:19-38 link]; and one "probable" one well studied at close range along the Black River (Bladen) on 28 Apr 2020. At any rate, it should not be assumed to be overly rare in this province during migration.
Piedmont No conclusive records, but probably a very rare transient. The province lies along the western edge of the apparent migratory route; thus, likely to be found mainly in the eastern part of the region. There are several published reports: one seen and heard in Durham on 26 May 1996 [Chat 61:57-68 link]; one seen and heard calling at Ribbonwalk Nature Preserve (Mecklenburg) on 17 Sep 2011 [Chat 76:19-38 link]; one photographed after hitting a window in Raleigh on 4 Oct 2011 [Chat 76:19-38 link]; and nocturnal calls heard in the pre-dawn hours at Falls Lake (Wake) on 17 Sep 2013 and at Hanging Rock State Park (Stokes) on 24 Sep 2013 [Chat 78:17-39 link]. Again, one must make his or her own conclusions as to the validity of these reports, though it is better to mention them here, even without conclusive documentation, rather than simply dismiss them completely.
Mountains No conclusive records, and no reports have been included in The Chat. Probably accidental or casual, as the mountains appear to lie west of the migration route.
Finding Tips Though not likely overly rare in the Coastal Plain in migration, conclusively identifying one would likely require a mist net and detailed measurements and photographs.
Attribution LeGrand[2020-08-03], LeGrand[2020-04-29], LeGrand[2020-02-08]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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