Birds – Louisiana Water Thrush

(Seiurus motacilla) Wood Warbler family

Length—6 to 6.28 inches. Just a trifle smaller than the English sparrow.

Male and Female—Grayish olive-brown upper parts, with conspicuous white line over the eye and reaching almost to the nape. Underneath white, tinged with pale buff. Throat and line through the middle, plain. Other parts streaked with very dark brown, rather faintly on the breast, giving them the speckled breast of the thrushes. Heavy, dark bill.

Range—United States, westward to the plains ; northward to southern New England. Winters in the tropics.

Migrations—Late April. October. Summer resident.

This bird, that so delighted Audubon with its high-trilled song as he tramped with indefatigable zeal through the hammocks of the Gulf States, seems to be almost the counterpart of the Northern water thrush, just as the loggerhead is the Southern counterpart of the Northern shrike. Very many Eastern birds have their duplicates in Western species, as we all know, and it is most interesting to trace the slight external variations that different climates and diet have produced on the same bird, and thus differentiated the species. In winter the Northern water thrush visits the cradle of its kind, the swamps of Louisiana and Florida, and, no doubt, by daily contact with its congeners there, keeps close to their cherished traditions, from which it never deviates farther than Nature compels, though it penetrate to the arctic regions during its summer journeys.

With a more southerly range, the Louisiana water thrush does not venture beyond the White Mountains and to the shores of the Great Lakes in summer, but even at the North the same woods often contain both birds, and there is opportunity to note just how much they differ. The Southern bird is slightly the larger, possibly an inch; it is more gray, and it lacks a few of the streaks, notably on the throat, that plentifully speckle its Northern counterpart; but the habits of both of these birds appear to be identical. Only for a few days in the spring or autumn migrations do they pass near enough to our homes for us to study them, and then we must ever be on the alert to steal a glance at them through the opera-glasses, for birds more shy than they do not visit the garden shrubbery at any season. Only let them suspect they are being stared at, and they are under cover in a twinkling.

Where mountain streams dash through tracts of mossy, spongy ground that is carpeted with fern and moss, and over-grown with impenetrable thickets of underbrush and tangles of creepers—such a place is the favorite resort of both the water thrushes. With a rubber boot missing, clothes torn, and temper by no means unruffled, you finally stand over the Louisiana thrush’s nest in the roots of an upturned tree immediately over the water, or else in a mossy root-belaced bank above a purling stream. A liquid-trilled warble, wild and sweet, breaks the stillness, and, like Audubon, you feel amply rewarded for your pains, though you may not be prepared to agree with him in thinking the song the equal of the European nightingale’s.