The Townsend’s Solitaire (
) is an uncommon to rare migrant and winter resident throughout the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle portion of Texas. Fall migrants begin to show up in late September with a significant presence by mid-October. Spring migrants occur from late March through April with some lingering into May. They tend to be irruptive winter visitors south of the Panhandle with the birds being present most years, but absent occasionally. During irruptive years, they may also be found scattered in the plains south of the Panhandle and in the Edwards Plateau up to the I-35 corridor. In winter, the preferred habitat is canyons and open juniper forests on lower slopes as well as higher elevations of the Guadalupe, Davis, and Chisos Mountains.
Townsend’s Solitaire is a member of the Turdidae Family (Thrushes). It's identified by its white eye-ring, plain gray body, and intricate wing pattern. In flight, the wing shows black flight feathers with a bold buffy stripe on both the top and underside of the wing and the tail has white outer feathers. While in flight, they flick open their tail and often have an irregular flight pattern changing directions quickly. Both sexes are similar. Although they are a thrush, they perch upright atop trees and shrubs to advertise their territories all year long and can easily be mistaken for a flycatcher as they frequently return to the same perch. Their typical weight is 1.2 oz or 34 grams. The song is a long continuous series of clear warbled notes while the call note is a whistled “whee”.
The Townsend’s Solitaire is the only solitaire native to America north of Mexico. It is named after the ornithologist John Kirk Townsend. While on their winter territory, both the male and female are strongly territorial defending their juniper patch from all birds. If you thought you liked berries, consider this - Townsend's Solitaire's has a big appetite with one study suggesting they need to eat between 42,000 and 84,000 juniper berries to survive the winter!