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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide

Image of A gray-cheeked thrush which was captured and banded by the N.J. Meadowlands Commission.Zoom+ A gray-cheeked thrush which was captured and banded by the N.J. Meadowlands Commission. © Jim Wright, N.J. Meadowlands Commission

Gray-cheeked thrush

Catharus minimus

Species Group: Bird

Conservation Status

State: Special Concern



A medium-sized thrush, about 7-8 inches long (smaller than a robin). It is a dull gray-brown with a buff white belly which has brown spots. It can be distinguished from the closely related Swainson’s thrush by its grayish cheeks and less conspicuous eye ring. Both sexes look alike.

Image of Range of the gray-cheeked thrush in New Jersey.Zoom+ Range of the gray-cheeked thrush in New Jersey.


The gray-cheeked thrush breeds in the far north, from Alaska in the west to Newfoundland, Canada in the east. It has also been known to breed in portions of eastern Siberia. Its winter range is within the northwestern portion of South America, from Columbia and Venezuela in the north to Peru in the south. It is a migrant through the eastern half of the U.S., including New Jersey. Amongst thrushes in the U.S., this species makes the longest migration and it is one of the longest-distance songbird migrants.

During the breeding season, this species prefers coniferous forest as well as willow and alder thickets near water. During migration, they may also occupy deciduous forest, forest borders, open woodlands, and scrub/shrub habitat.


The gray-cheeked thrush feeds primarily on small invertebrates such as insects, spiders, and earthworms. It will also feeds on berries and other fruits. It feeds primarily on the ground.


The gray-cheeked thrush does not breed in New Jersey. It is observed within the state as a migrant during Spring and Fall, typically before mid-May or after mid-August, and not during winter.

Within its breeding range in the far north, it usually builds its nest fairly low, near the ground, in a small tree or shrub. The nest, which is built by the female, is a compact, firm cup consisting mostly of grasses and mud.

There is usually only one brood per breeding season and 3-5 eggs are laid. Incubation is by the female only and lasts 12-14 days. The young are cared for by both parents and leave the nest at about 11-13 days after hatching.


Little is known about habitat use of gray-cheeked thrushes in New Jersey as they are a shy, relatively secretive species often mistaken for other closely-related thrushes. This species is listed in New Jersey as a Species of Special Concern (not yet endangered or threatened but possibly on its way) during its non-breeding season. It is possible that, due to their breeding range in Alaska and the northern portion of Canada, they may be at risk due to global climate change as their habitat and/or prey may not be able to adapt to changing climatic conditions.

Text written by Michael J. Davenport in 2011.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
       Class: Aves
          Order: Passeriformes
             Family: Turdidae
                Genus: Catharus
                   Species: C. minimus

Find Related Info: Special concern, Migratory songbirds

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