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Townsend's Solitaire, John Gordon
Photo © John Gordon

Photo: John Gordon
Breeding evidence - Townsend's Solitaire
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - Townsend's Solitaire
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - Townsend's Solitaire
Elevation plot

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Townsend's Solitaire
Myadestes townsendi
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
0 - 2375 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
104 140 567 332
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 -2.07 (-3.91 - -0.634)Medium
Canada1973 - 2012 -1.56 (-2.88 - -0.239)Medium

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
0.060.01 0.090.07 0.09
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
0.06  0.01  0.03
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains
0.10.06 0.09  0.08

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir 
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range The Townsend's Solitaire is a subtly-plumaged member of the thrush family that is strongly associated with hill and montane environments as a breeding species. It is perhaps best known for its exquisitely beautiful song, which it uses to defend territories both in summer and winter. Non-breeding territories are established around food resources, usually fruits, especially of juniper (Juniperus) species (Bowen 1997). Its range spans the western cordilleras of North America, from Mexico's Sierra Madre north to Alaska's Brooks Range. Recent records from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut suggest the species may have a more northerly distribution than originally believed (Lamont in press). Southern populations are either resident or make short altitudinal migrations, but northern populations, including most in British Columbia, migrate longer distances to overwinter, usually to sites of high juniper densities (Bock 1982).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat The Townsend's Solitaire is most widespread on the plateaus and in the mountain ranges of southern British Columbia east of the Coast Mountains. The extent of the provincial range has not changed appreciably since The Birds of British Columbia was published in 1997, but Atlas data do fill a gap in breeding season distribution between about 53N and 59N, where previous literature suggested that the range was discontinuous (Bowen 1997, Campbell et al. 1997). Probable breeding occurs across the 650 km of this latitude band, but breeding during the Atlas is only confirmed in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the Skeena River headwaters, between 54N and 56N. The species is also more widely distributed on Vancouver Island and in the Georgia Depression than was previously known.

The Probability of Observation model and Atlas point count data show that the core of the British Columbia population occurs at higher elevations in the Southern Interior, and southern parts of the Southern Interior Mountains and Central Interior ecoprovinces, roughly as described in Campbell et al. (1997). Atlas point count data suggest abundance increases with elevation and is highest above 2,000 m, whereas Campbell et al. (1997) described the species as most often found between 500 and 1,800 m, perhaps an artefact of access limitations at higher elevations.

Open coniferous forest habitats, especially Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosae), Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta), including edges and burns, and Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides) stands are preferred, in several biogeoclimatic zones. Nests are situated on the ground often in open areas, particularly crevices in vertical dirt banks (especially road cuts; Campbell et al. 1997), beneath rocks, logs, cliff faces with overhanging vegetation and other sheltered structures (Sinclair et al. 2003). The elevated predation risk associated with nesting on the ground is mitigated by the ability to raise multiple broods during a long breeding season (Bowen 1997).

Conservation and Recommendations Breeding Bird Survey results suggest a large decrease in British Columbia and Canada since the 1970s, a trend that may be steepening, and a moderate decrease across the North American range as a whole (Environment Canada 2011). The reasons for these declines are not clear. Developing and testing hypotheses should be made a priority.

Peter J.A. Davidson and Myles M. Lamont

Recommended citation: Davidson, P.J.A. and Lamont, M.M. 2015. Townsend's Solitaire in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [14 Jul 2024]

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