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Louisiana Waterthrush

Species Spotlight: Louisiana Waterthrush

Image of a Louisiana WaterthrushVital Signs

Common name: Louisiana Waterthrush
Latin name: Parkesia motacilla
Status under SARA: Schedule 1, Special Concern. A November 2015 COSEWIC assessment put the species as Threatened.
Range in Canada: Southern Ontario in the Niagara region and around Lake Erie.
Size: Wing length averages 7.8-8.5 cm and weight averages 20 g.
Population Estimate: The global breeding range is (>99%) within the eastern United States. The species has declined locally in parts of Canada in the past century, but targeted surveys have found higher numbers in some parts of Canada more recently. Overall, both populations in the US and Canada appear to be relatively stable. The Canadian population is estimated to be between 235 to 575 adults.

The Facts

  • The Louisiana Waterthrush is a Wood Warbler resembling a thrush. It has a dusty brown and white colouring above with dark streaks on the breast, buffy sides, pink legs and a long heavy bill for a warbler.
  • Females produce one clutch of three to six eggs yearly. The eggs are incubated for 12-14 days, and then, ten days after hatching, the young leave the nest.
  • Nests are cup-shaped and made of mud, leaves, pine needles and twigs. The birds make them in tree hollows or under logs on or near the ground.
  • Both parents are in charge of feeding nestlings.
  • The Louisiana Waterthrush’s diet includes insects like beetles, ants and dragonflies, as well as crustaceans, snails, small fish and seeds.
  • The Louisiana Waterthrush walks on the ground to forage, sometimes flying over small streams to catch insects.
  • The oldest recorded Louisiana Waterthrush was an 11-year-old male in New Jersey.

The Story:

Among the fast-flowing streams and deep-forested woodlands of Southern Ontario you may encounter this rare, yet regular guest. In early spring, sooner than many other bird migrations, the Louisiana Waterthrush celebrates its arrival with a clear ringing call. Males sing tirelessly to establish their territories until they find suitable mates.

The Louisiana Waterthrush walks with a characteristic bobbing movement that distinguishes it from its counterpart, the Northern Waterthrush.  The Louisiana Waterthrush also prefers to make its home along moving water, whereas the Northern Waterthrush favours swamp forests with a coniferous element.

The majority of the Louisiana Waterthrush’s summer range is located in the United States. In Canada, the birds only breed in the Niagara region of Southern Ontario and along Lake Erie, and occasionally along the southern shield in Ontario into southwestern Quebec. An estimated 105 to 195 pairs of this species breed in Canada, which is less than one per cent of the total global population.

Due to deforestation and habitat loss, the breeding population in Canada has declined over the past several years. Although the Louisiana Waterthrush is a hardy species, the loss of canopy cover accompanied by water pollution has had a negative impact on the population. The anticipated arrival of the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, an exotic forest pest, is also expected to further reduce the population. Since the Louisiana Waterthrush is dependent on large areas of uninterrupted forest, it is important to take preventative measures against further habitat fragmentation. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, populations were stable between 1966 and 2015, which means there is still time to effectively preserve this species.

Image of a Louisiana WaterthrushWhat’s Being Done

The Louisiana Waterthrush is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) as well as under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. In 2012, Environment Canada released a Management Plan for the species outlining some of the key measures to maintain the species current population size and distribution. Included in this plan is encouraging conservation of breeding sites and continuing communication with international bodies like Partners in Flight (PIF). PIF is a conservation organization that compiles data from over a hundred ornithological experts and has also identified target population levels they would like to see the species reach.

What You Can Do

Report a sighting: The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry tracks at risk species. Use their online form to report any sightings with photographs or map coordinates. Report any illegal activity to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).

Volunteer: Join a local nature club, participate in surveys, and complete stewardship work focused on the species.

Be a responsible steward: Check if you are eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk.


The State of North America’s Birds 2016

Partners in Flight

Species Profile (Louisiana Waterthrush) – SARA

Management Plan for the Louisiana Waterthrush

COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report

Thanks to Nature Canada volunteer Caitlin Leishman for contributing this profile. 

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