Waterthrush feeds, nests around moving water

By Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

Warblers are small to medium-sized songbirds that, for the most part, are colorful. A few species look more like thrushes and sparrows because they have an overall brown color. The Louisiana Waterthrush is such a warbler. Its breeding range includes most of the eastern USA into southernmost Canada but does not breed in Florida and the Atlantic coast. So, it is a species not unique to Louisiana.

The Louisiana Waterthrush nests and feeds around water, hence the use of “water” in its common name. There is another waterthrush, also a warbler, called the Northern Waterthrush. Its breeding range extends across the northern tier of states east of the Rocky Mountains and southern Canada to the Atlantic Ocean. So, its common name is appropriate. The northern range of the Louisiana Waterthrush does over lap the southern range of the Northern Waterthrush.

The waterthrushes are neotropical migrants. This means that most of the birds breed in the northern hemisphere and winter in the tropics. When I say “most”, some remain in the southern tier of states during the winter and really excite birders who happen to find them during their winter birding activities. So, too, is true of both of the waterthrushes. However, we are most likely to encounter these birds in mid-March/April/early May during spring migration and early September/October/early November during fall migration.

So, how do you tell the two waterthrushes apart? It isn’t easy? The songs differ greatly if they sing. Both species have brown backs and whitish bellies, But, with Louisiana Waterthrushes, the flanks and undertail are buff, not white. The white eyebrow ( supercilium) is wide, not narrow. The throat of the Louisiana Waterthrush is unstreaked but that of the Northern Waterthrush IS streaked. If both species are visible together, the bill of the Northern Waterthrush is smaller and its legs are paler pink!

Because Louisiana Waterthrush breeds our region, most readers can find them in spring and summer. To find them, go to where they breed around flowing water in “bottoms”. I found my first 2014 Louisiana Waterthrush in early April singing its heart out in Castor Plunge Bottoms in the piney woods on Castor Plunge Road between Twin Bridges Road and Woodworth, LA. I soon found another male protecting his territory on Brown’s Creek Bottoms near the intersection of LA 28 West and Browns Creek Road.

According to the late Dr. George Lowery, Jr. in his “Louisiana Birds”, Louisiana Waterthrushes nest adjacent to “moving” water, slow or fast. They find hidden areas adjacent to stream banks below overhanging roots or plants to build their nests using all sorts of plant materials held together with mud!

Are waterthrushes “waterbirds”? Both species feed along streams conspicuously bobbing their tails. Where ranges overlap, Northern Waterthrushes are found along SLOWER moving waters and Louisiana Waterthrushes are found along FASTER moving waters.

Louisiana Waterthrushes feed at the edges of streams, creeks, coulees, and bayous. They do eat aquatic insects and small crustaceans found along the shores. Well, the smaller egrets and herons eat such prey and they are CLEARLY waterbirds! I can surely see a waterthrush eating a small soft-shelled crawfish but doubt that it can handle a hard-shelled crawfish similar in size to it - 5-6 inches! So, form your own conclusion!