Nature Center

Our District Bird

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Struggling for Survival

Rock Creek Park is an oasis in the city. The wood thrush—the official bird of Washington, DC—is becoming less and less common here. It is a long distance migrant and flies to Central America for the winter. See some of the threats that causing the wood thrush populations to decline.

Wood Thrush

Threats to Survival

An aerial color photo showing the green forested area of Rock Creek Park surrounded by buildings, roads, parking lots, and developments.

As its spring and summer breeding habitat is broken into smaller pieces, survival gets harder for the wood thrush. Rock Creek Park provides critical nesting habitat. Deforestation of their winter habitat in Latin America also reduces their survival.

A young reddish-brown deer fawn with white spots standing in the forest.

When white-tailed deer eat saplings and seedlings, they reduce nesting places for the wood thrush. Deer also browse on shrubs and the forest understory, which takes away some of the birds’ food.

A grey raccoon climbing in a maple tree. The raccoon’s mask-like black eye patches are outlined with white fur.

Nest predators like raccoon, possum, crows, and bluejay thrive in fragmented forests near people—which is another strike against the wood thrush. These predators eat eggs and chicks.

The female wood thrush has a reddish brown head, back and wings. Her belly is white with brown spots almost in rows. The mother wood thrush sits on a nest in a tree with two sleeping brown chicks and one larger grey chick begging for food.

That large begging chick is not a wood thrush, but a brown-headed cowbird. Cowbirds sneak their eggs into other birds’ nests. Once hatched, the aggressive cowbird chicks are fed the most insects and may kill the other chicks. (Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar)

An adult brown-headed cowbird perches on a log. The black shiny bird and a rust colored head and a thick black beak.

A brown-headed cowbird (shown here) thrives in fragmented forests while a wood thrush needs large expanses of forest to survive. (Photo by Donald R. Miller)

The ground in a forest has dirt, leaf litter, snails, and an exotic earthworm.

Acid rain reduces amount the calcium-rich foods, like snails, crustacean, millipedes and earthworms that wood thrush need to lay healthy eggs and reproduce successfully. Instead, they eat more fruits, caterpillars, and beetles, which have less calcium.

Climate Affects Everything

Due to climate change and habitat loss, scientists predict there is a 75 percent chance that wood thrushes will no longer inhabit parts of the D.C. region by 2100. As the regional temperatures continue to warm and food and forest cover decrease or change, the wood thrush may migrate further north during the spring and summer months to breed.

Listen for the Wood Thrush

The wood thrush is secretive and well-camouflaged—making it hard to see. Many bird watchers find and identify the bird by its call. Listen to its call.

A Wood Thrush Calls by Megumi Aita

You can help us document the changes in this forest so we can see how climate change is affecting the wood thrush habitat here.

Picture our Parks

Scientists use photographs as records of a scene. We need your help to document the plants, clouds, and seasons—and how they are changing. Use the picture post to take photos and upload them here.

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