Northern Waterthrush

Hey guys welcome back! Didn’t we do this bird already? Nope! A while back, we looked at the Louisiana Waterthrush. Both birds are nearly identical, so you’d be forgiven if you thought I slipped a repeat in. In fact, one of the first bird walks I ever went on, before I was all that good at birding, the lead spotted a waterthrush and even he wasn’t 100 percent sure which one and simply said “It’s either a Louisiana or a Northern, so we’ll just say it was a waterthrush.”

Northern Waterthrush3
Northern waterthrush in the bright sun, Central Park, NY

Over the years, I have gotten pretty good at telling the two apart. (If you need a refresher, here’s the two side by side) But the thing with birds is, although they have their own distinct field marks, every individual will vary slightly. So, you end up with some northern waterthrushes that look more like Louisianas, and vice versa. When I lived in New York, I actually witnessed a number of… let’s say heated debates between birders over what kind of waterthrush they were seeing. In parts of the country, the two don’t typically overlap. The Northern is found further west, and in a larger area. But in New York (although the Louisiana usually arrived earlier in the spring), the two could often be seen at the same time, even side by side.Northern Waterthrush2

In general, the light markings of the Northern waterthrush are yellower than its counterpart’s, and there’s slightly more streaking immediately under the bill. The light “eyebrow” is also usually narrower. But again, the key word there is “usually!” I’ll leave you all to go out an debate what you’re looking at for yourself.  Like the Louisiana, the northern waterthrush bobs its tail up and down. There was a birder in New York that tried to tell me that the northern bobs its tail vertically while the Louisiana bobbed its tail more like a pendulum, but I could never see that difference. In fact, a lot of birds that forage near the shore bob their tails. Both waterthrushes, some pipits, and some sandpipers among others. Although no one really knows why, the fact that they all share similar habitat seems to be the common thread. One of nature’s mysteries! Check back next time for a warbler that has a unique look, the black-and-white warbler! See you all then!

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