Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend's Solitaire and chicks
Townsend's Solitaire nest



Myadestes townsendi

Length: 7.9-8.7 in (20-22 cm) - Weight: 1.1-1.2 oz (30-35 g)

General Description

Gray overall with a tail edged in white on the sides, the Townsend's Solitaire is a nondescript bird. Males and females look alike, and both have white eye-rings and dark wingtips accented with cream. Perching birds show buffy wing-patches. In flight, buffy wing-stripes are evident.


The Townsend's Solitaire requires a combination of steep banks for nest sites, open forests where it catches aerial prey, and tall trees to perch on. This combination is most often found in mid to high-elevation, dry, coniferous forests. Solitaires are also found in wetter areas if the terrain is rugged enough to produce a patchy, open forest.


Townsend's Solitaires may form small flocks in migration and during dispersal. Usually seen alone, defending territories in the winter as well as in the breeding season, the Townsend's Solitaire perches upright high in a tree. From this perch, the male sings to defend his territory.

The Townsend's Solitaire flies from a perch to catch flying insects, or pounces on prey on the ground. It also may hover while gleaning food from the surface of leaves and twigs.


In winter, the Townsend's Solitaire eats mostly berries. Insects make up the majority of the diet in summer.


The Townsend's Solitaire are ground-nesters, and nest in a shallow depression in a dirt bank or road cut, in a cliff crevice, under a stump or log, or amid upturned roots; basically any protected spot on the ground with overhanging shelter. The nest is a bulky, loosely made open cup of twigs, grass, pine needles, and bark strips, lined with soft grass.

Eggs & Incubation

The Townsend's Solitaire eggs vary in color from a dull white to pink, to greenish blue; marked with numerous blotches or spots. The female incubates anywhere from one to six eggs for about 11 days. Both parents feed the young, although only the female broods.

Migration Status

Some Townsend's Solitaires migrate attitudinally, but most migrate latitudinally . The winter range varies from year to year based on the berry supply, and can extend far south into Mexico. The seasonal shift takes place in early spring and late fall.

Interesting Facts

  1. The Townsend's Solitaire usually puts its nest on the ground, but may nest above the ground in a decaying stub or a live tree. It is especially fond of nesting along cut banks. All of the sites used are nooks or hollows beneath some sort of overhanging object that shelters the nest from above.
  2. During the winter, the male and female are both strongly territorial,defending patches of juniper trees against other solitaires and other birds. They feed largely or even exclusively on the juniper's ripe, fleshy berries for the entire nonbreeding season.
  3. The Townsend's Solitaire sings throughout the fall and winter to set up and hold its winter territory. Violent fights may break out in defense of the winter territory, because owners of large, berry-rich territories survive the winter at higher rates than solitaires on small territories with few berries.

Last updated: May 4, 2018

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517


970 586-1206
The Information Office is open year-round: 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. daily in summer; 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Mondays - Fridays and 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Saturdays - Sundays in winter. Recorded Trail Ridge Road status: (970) 586-1222.

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