An unforgettable memory for me at Jamestown Audubon is the day, with Jennifer Schlick's help, that I saw not one, but both waterthrush species. Wow. That's not a common occurrence. The Audubon provides the perfect habitat for both birds.
The northern and Louisiana waterthrushes don't hop like a lot of birds. They slowly walk in the underbrush, along streams and other waterways, eating as they go. Because their dark upper parts, without any wing bars, blend in with the leaves, their tails and heads bobbing are what might catch your attention. Like the sandpipers, they flip dead leaves to find insects underneath and also enjoy water insects.
The northern waterthrush, in the Seiurus genus, is much more common here than the Louisiana. That seems logical to me. The northern one breeds from northern Alaska to Newfoundland and south into the northeastern states. Wintering takes place from central Mexico and the West Indies to northern South America. You travelers should look for it in mangrove swamps in the winter.
The Louisiana waterthrush, seen at the Jamestown Audubon, was a rare sighting in our area.
Photo by Dominic Sherony
It builds its nest amidst root cavities and stumps. Materials include moss, leaves and rootlets. A good thing is that it is not usually a host to cowbird eggs.
Being on the edges of streams and other waterways, it can find both water and land insects, mollusks, crustaceans and even small fish. Especially favored are small pools with running water. Its winter diet in the south is mostly insects. In comparison with the Louisiana waterthrush, it prefers smaller prey.
The Louisiana waterthrush, also in the Seiurus genus, is a smidgeon bigger than the northern (6" compared to the 5 to 6"). The two birds look very much alike. Here are differences. The Louisiana has pink legs. One author compared this color to bubble gum. Its eyebrow might be a little buffy in front of the eye, but then it changes to a brighter white and is wider behind the eye. Like the eyebrow, the breast is white in front and buffy streaked towards the tail. These qualities are the same for both the male and female.
Usually, it is not visible to humans, because it abides along mountain streams in thick woods. However, it also likes ponds and swamps, like those at the Audubon.
The third bird in the Seiurus genus, is the ovenbird. Where does it get its name? From its nest, which resembles a Dutch oven, used in the kitchen.
Some research reveals that it might not be closely related to the waterthrushes. Deciduous and mixed forests are its favorite habitat. Thus, look for it at the Jamestown Audubon. You very easily might see it walking just a few feet from you, among the leaves and fallen trees in the woods. It also flips dead leaves to find insects underneath.
When lifting its feet high, it also bobs its head as it walks along. Besides the Connecticut warbler, this is the only warbler that has a tail tilting up a little bit. Also, the wings may droop just a little. It might cock its tail up and then bring it back to a horizontal position to the ground.
If you're a nest hunter, look in the middle of uprooted tree roots or areas that hang over water. This nest, like many others, is composed of leaves, moss, twigs, inner bark and lined with finer offerings from nature.
The waterthrushes are in the Parulidea family, which includes all our wood warblers. This family is only found in North, Central and South America. Half of those are in North America. Because they move very quickly, identifying these birds can be tough, but oh, so satisfying.
To end on a light note, do you remember those bobbing dolls that folks used to place by the rear window of their cars? Just maybe the inventors of those dolls, were inspired by the ovenbird.