Seiurus motacillaLouisiana waterthrush

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Geographic Range

During the breeding season, Louisiana waterthrushes (Seiurus motacilla) are found from Minnesota, southern Ontario and central New England, south to Texas, Louisiana and Georgia. In southern Ontario, they are found primarily within the Norfolk Sand Plain region, which borders the north shore of Lake Erie. Their breeding range has expanded northward, most likely in response to the reforestation of areas extensively lumbered in the late 19th and early 20th century. In Minnesota, Louisiana waterthrushes are found mostly in the eastern part of the state, particularly in Chisago and Washington counties along the St. Croix River, as well as in Winona and Houston counties. They are also found in southern Pine County and west to the Mankato area of the Minnesota River valley. During wintering months, Louisiana waterthrushes are found in northern Mexico, Central America and northern South America. They also winter in the West Indies and the Caribbean. Occasionally, these birds may winter within the southeastern United States. ("Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat Model", 2002; "Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat Model", 2002; Bull and Farrand Jr., 1997; "COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Eckert, 2002; Farrand Jr., 1988)

Habitat

Louisiana waterthrushes typically reside in areas with running waters, such as brooks, river swamps and even sluggish streams. They prefer creeks that are heavily wooded with limestone edges along the banks, particularly in their northern range, as well as areas with moderate to sparse undergrowth. Although they prefer running water, they can be found in swamps in the southern portion of their range, as well as during migration. Louisiana waterthrushes are considered area-sensitive forest species because they exhibit a preference for older growth woodlands. They require large tracts, of at least 100 ha, of these mature forests. There is a 50% lower probability of Louisiana waterthrushes being found in forests smaller than 350 ha. These birds also avoid areas of high elevation. During breeding season, Louisiana waterthrushes often nest along streams in hilly deciduous forests, in cypress swamps, in bottomland forests or in ravines and gorges near flowing water. During wintering months, they nest along rivers and streams in hilly or mountainous areas from coastal northern Mexico and the Caribbean to extreme northwestern South America. Louisiana waterthrushes have been known to display annual fidelity to both breeding and wintering sites. ("Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat Model", 2002; Barrett, et al., 1990; Bull and Farrand Jr., 1997; "COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Collins Jr., 1959; Rappole, 1995; Stotz, et al., 1996)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • Range elevation
    2300 (high) m
    7545.93 (high) ft

Physical Description

Due to their appearance, this species is commonly referred to as a 'waterthrush', although they are actually 'wood warblers' by classification. Louisiana waterthrushes have dark olive-brown upperparts, with a prominent, white supercillium that extends behind their eyes. Their underparts are white with a slight buff wash on their flanks. Their breast, but not their neck, is darkly streaked. Their bill is dark, thin and pointed and their legs are pinkish. They can grow up to 17 cm in length; with an average wingspan of around 25 cm. Hatchlings are covered in dark gray down. Their mouth is red and their gape flanges are yellow. As hatchlings age, they become identical to adults, although immature birds may have buffy or rusty tips on their tertials, their tail feathers may be more pointed and they lack any white on their outer tail feathers. This species is often confused with northern waterthrushes, which have heavier streaking on their breasts and neck. Louisiana waterthrushes also tend to be bulkier and have a broader white supercillium. (Alderfer and Chartier, 2006; Baicich and Harrison, 1997; Barrett, et al., 1990; Bull and Farrand Jr., 1997; "COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Collins Jr., 1959; Farrand Jr., 1988; Robbins, et al., 1983; Sibley, 2000; Vuilleumier, 2009)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    18 to 25 g
    0.63 to 0.88 oz
  • Average mass
    20.5 g
    0.72 oz
  • Range length
    11.4 to 17.1 cm
    4.49 to 6.73 in
  • Average length
    15.24 cm
    6.00 in
  • Average wingspan
    25.4 cm
    10.00 in

Reproduction

Louisiana waterthrushes are typically monogamous and are strictly solitary breeders. They may or may not have the same mates for multiple breeding seasons. During their arrival to the breeding territories, males sing excessively. They typically arrive at their breeding territories in mid- to late April or early May. When nesting starts, male singing stops but resumes at a low level after hatching. Louisiana waterthrushes are aggressive in defending their territory against conspecifics and territories rarely, if ever, are neighboring. ("COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006)

Louisiana waterthrushes produce a single brood of 3 to 6 eggs each year. Eggs are sub-elliptical to short sub-elliptical in shape. They are smooth, slightly glossy and white or creamy-white in color, with brown or reddish-brown speckling. Young hatch in 12 to 14 days and fledge at around 10 days. (Alderfer and Chartier, 2006; Baicich and Harrison, 1997; Barrett, et al., 1990; "COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Collins Jr., 1959)

  • Breeding interval
    Louisiana Waterthrushes breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Their breeding season occurs from April to June.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 6
  • Range time to hatching
    12 to 14 days
  • Average fledging age
    10 days
  • Average time to independence
    1 months

Louisiana waterthrushes nest from April to June. Nests are built by both male and female birds in 4 to 6 days. Nests are often constructed in small holes that birds gouge into stream banks. They may also nest in areas hidden among exposed tree roots or in stump cavities. Holes are filled with leaves, moss and grass; the birds often leave a trail of leaves or grass at the front of the hole, usually leading toward the stream. Nests are generally well concealed by roots and hanging vegetation and are usually 0.5 to 4 m above the water surface. Incubation lasts about 12 to 14 days and is only performed by females. Young are altricial and are tended by both the male and female. At 10 days, young are developed enough to leave the nest, however, they still require further parental care. After around 16 days, young can fly and after an additional 7 days, they can feed themselves. Fledged young remain along their natal streams for about a month, after which, they wander progressively farther (up to 5 km) away, unattended by parents. (Alderfer and Chartier, 2006; Baicich and Harrison, 1997; "COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Louisiana waterthrushes mature in a year and have a short lifespan, which is typical of most small birds. Their average life span is about eight years. In general, the average annual survival rate of North American wood warblers is about 60%. ("COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Vuilleumier, 2009)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    8 years

Behavior

Louisiana waterthrushes have similar behavior patterns to northern waterthrushes. These birds often sing from branches and during flight. Both species also have a habit of bobbing their tail, in a teetering stance, particularly while searching for prey. This is a key behavioral characteristic of waterthrushes, as the genus name Seiurus means "tail-bobber". Louisiana waterthrushes walk along the forest floor, rather than hopping. During flight, they are fast, direct and slightly undulating with rapid wing beats. During spring migration, Louisiana waterthrushes arrive much earlier to their northern range than northern waterthrushes. By mid-March, these birds typically reach the Gulf Coast. By mid- to late April, they reach the Great Lakes region. Typically, migration is completed by mid-May. Louisiana waterthrushes also begin their winter migration early. Louisiana waterthrushes may display annual site fidelity to both their wintering and breeding sites. Up to 50% of females reoccupy territories from the previous year, frequently with the same mate. These birds also tend to be territorial. (Alderfer and Chartier, 2006; Barrett, et al., 1990; Bull and Farrand Jr., 1997; "COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Collins Jr., 1959; Farrand Jr., 1988; Rappole, 1995; Vuilleumier, 2009)

  • Range territory size
    0.02 (high) km^2

Home Range

It has been estimated that the minimum contiguous forest cover required to sustain a viable breeding population of Louisiana waterthrushes is about 100 ha (1 km^2), with each breeding pair requiring a maximum territory size of 2 ha (0.02 km^2). Along stream courses, breeding territories are linear. It has been estimated that each pair of Louisiana waterthrushes occupied about 400 m of stream course. ("Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat Model", 2002; Barrett, et al., 1990; Bull and Farrand Jr., 1997; "COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Rappole, 1995; Vuilleumier, 2009)

Communication and Perception

This species' song begins with three or four high, clear, slurred whistles, followed by a series of jumbled and descending chirps. They also have an alternate song that is similar, but much longer and more rambling. Their call is a loud, strong spich sound. Males are typically quiet during migration and nest building. They are altogether quieter than male northern waterthrushes, which begin singing during migration and continue singing during nest building and egg incubation. (Barrett, et al., 1990; Sibley, 2000)

Food Habits

Louisiana waterthrushes are carnivorous birds, feeding primarily on aquatic insects and insect larvae. However, they do feed on other small aquatic animals such as mollusks, crustaceans, small fish and amphibians. They may also feed on terrestrial invertebrates, such as earthworms, caterpillars and chilopods. During nesting season, waterthrushes feed almost entirely in and along streams. However, they also forage in stagnant pools along swamp edges. While foraging, these birds flip over leaves, dislodging their aquatic prey. Louisiana waterthrushes also pick into crannies, searching for insects and spiders, or forage on floating debris. Likewise, they may catch flying insects, such as dragonflies and stoneflies, in mid-flight. Louisiana waterthrushes are fast feeders. They typically perform 10 or more feeding maneuvers per minute. ("Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat Model", 2002; Barrett, et al., 1990; "COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Mattsson, 2006; Vuilleumier, 2009)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic crustaceans

Predation

There is little information available on the predation of Louisiana waterthrushes. Adults are likely preyed upon by small raptors, while eggs and nestlings are preyed upon by a variety of snakes, small mammals and jays. ("COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Within their breeding and wintering ranges, Louisiana waterthrushes are likely excellent bio-indicators for the health of headwater, medium-gradient and coldwater streams, as well as for intact, mature deciduous forested swamps. This is because Louisiana waterthrushes are forest-interior, migratory birds that require streams for food and nesting sites. Additionally, brown-headed cowbirds commonly parasitize nests of Louisiana waterthrushes. ("COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Mattsson, 2006)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Louisiana waterthrushes are excellent bioindicators of stream health and quality. They also feed on insects that may be regarded as pests to humans. ("COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Mattsson, 2006)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Currently, there are no known negative economic impacts of Louisiana waterthrushes on humans.

Conservation Status

Reported declines of Louisiana waterthrushes have been long term (greater than twenty years) and are likely to continue in the future. Because they have restricted and specialized habitat requirements for their breeding and wintering grounds, these birds are sensitive to changes in habitat quality and quantity. Their largest threat is habitat loss, particularly due to mountaintop removal-valley fill coal mining in the southern Appalachian Mountains. In this mining process, the entire mountaintop is removed and the waste rock is dumped into stream valleys. From 1985 to 2001, 724 miles of stream were buried due to this mining process and an additional 1,200 miles of streams had degraded water quality. This mining process also increases edge effects as the interior forest habitat is reduced by up to 5 times the acreage actually cleared. Edge effects are damaging to Louisiana waterthrushes as they are generally an interior forest species. Logging of old growth forests also reduces Louisiana waterthrushes' habitat. Additional threats include reduced insect prey caused by various factors that increase stream turbidity, water contamination, reductions in water supply, climate change and increased numbers of nest predators and parasites associated with human encroachment and habitat fragmentation. Protection for Louisiana waterthrushes is afforded through the Migratory Birds Convention Act. ("Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat Model", 2002; Lebbin, et al., 2010; Rappole, 1995; "Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division Endangered and Threatened Species", 2013; "Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat Model", 2002; Lebbin, et al., 2010; Rappole, 1995; "Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division Endangered and Threatened Species", 2013; "Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat Model", 2002; Lebbin, et al., 2010; Rappole, 1995; "Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division Endangered and Threatened Species", 2013; "Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat Model", 2002; "COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Lebbin, et al., 2010; Rappole, 1995; "Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division Endangered and Threatened Species", 2013)

Under their scientific name, Seiurus motacilla, Louisiana waterthrushes are not listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. However, under their synonym, Parkesia motacilla, they are listed as a species of 'least concern'. In their Canadian territory, Louisiana waterthrushes are listed as a species of 'special concern'. This designation is based on their small population (between 105 and 195 breeding pairs); however, they have remained stable over the past two decades and immigration from the United States still occurs. ("Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat Model", 2002; "COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; "Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division Endangered and Threatened Species", 2013)

Contributors

Tracy Templin (author), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

fossorial

Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

molluscivore

eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

piscivore

an animal that mainly eats fish

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

COSEWIC. 2006. "COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus" (On-line pdf). Accessed March 26, 2013 at http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/CW69-14-17-2006E.pdf.

State of Michigan. 2013. "Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division Endangered and Threatened Species" (On-line). Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Accessed March 27, 2013 at http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12141_12168---,00.html.

2002. "Louisiana Waterthrush Habitat Model" (On-line). U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Accessed March 27, 2013 at http://www.fws.gov/r5gomp/gom/habitatstudy/metadata2/louisiana_waterthrush_model.htm.

Alderfer, J., A. Chartier. 2006. National Geographic Complete Birds of North America. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

Baicich, P., C. Harrison. 1997. A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds - 2nd Edition. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Barrett, N., C. Bernstien, R. Brown, J. Connor, K. Dunham, P. Dunne, J. Farrand Jr., D. Hopes, K. Kaufman, N. Lavers, M. Leister, R. Marsi, W. Petersen, J. Pierson, A. Pistorius, J. Toups. 1990. Book of North American Birds. Pleasantvelle, N.Y: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc.

Birdlife International, 2012. "Parkesia motacilla" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed March 22, 2013 at www.iucnredlist.org.

Bull, J., J. Farrand Jr.. 1997. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds - Eastern Region. New York, N.Y: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Collins Jr., H. 1959. Complete Field Guide to North American Wildlife - Eastern Edition. New York, N.Y.: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.

Eckert, K. 2002. A Birder's Guide to Minnesota. Duluth, MN: Gavian Guides.

Farrand Jr., J. 1988. Eastern Birds. New York, N.Y: Chanticleer Press, Inc.

Lebbin, D., M. Parr, G. Fenwick. 2010. The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Mattsson, B., T. Master, R. Mulvihill, W. Robinson. 2009. "Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla)" (On-line). The Birds of North America Online. Accessed March 22, 2013 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/151.

Mattsson, B. 2006. Louisiana Waterthrush Ecology and Conservation in the Georgia Piedmont. Graduate Faculty of The University of Georgia, 1: 1-147.

Rappole, J. 1995. The Ecology of Migrant Birds. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.

Robbins, C., B. Bruun, H. Zim. 1983. Birds of North America. New York, N.Y.: Golden Press.

Sibley, D. 2000. National Audubon Society: The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York, N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Stotz, D., J. Fitzpatrick, T. Parker III, D. Moskovits. 1996. Neotropical Birds Ecology and Conservation. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Vuilleumier, F. 2009. Birds of North America. New York, NY: DK Publishing.