Bicknell's Thrush
(Catharus bicknelli)


Picture of bird
© Dan Busby
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

Bicknell's Thrush is one of the rarest songbirds in North America, with a highly fragmented breeding range that is restricted to northeastern North America. It breeds mainly in high elevation coniferous forest. Bicknell's Thrush was recognised as a distinct species in 1995, when it was taxonomically separated from the Gray-cheeked Thrush. Results from various surveys suggest a large decrease in the population of Bicknell's Thrush in Canada since 1970. Canada hosts roughly half the breeding population and an estimated 95% of the potential breeding habitat (COSEWIC 2009b); there is little remaining habitat in the United States to accommodate population growth. Current threats to the population are high, and include habitat loss, climate change, predation and environmental contaminants (COSEWIC 2009b, Townsend et al. 2015). Bicknell's Thrush was first assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as Special Concern in 1999 but was revised to Threatened in 2009 (COSEWIC 2009b) and listed under the Species at Risk Act in 2012. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
COSEWIC (Canada)Threatened2009 
SARA (Canada)Threatened2012 
IUCN (Global)Vulnerable2018 
Partners in Flight (North America)Watch list - red2017 
Wild Species (Canada)Imperiled2015 
State of North America’s BirdsWatch list2016 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLarge DecreaseMediumBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada5,000 - 50,000 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Long-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

General nesting period in Canada

Nesting period starts between early June and mid-June and ends in late July, depending on the region. Before or after this period, the probability of an active nest is lower.

Conservation and management

Bicknell's Thrush presents a significant challenge to wildlife managers, researchers and conservation organizations. It is secretive and occupies remote and inhospitable habitats which make field surveys difficult. The species' primary habitat includes high elevation spruce and fir forest, which is currently threatened by the impacts of climate change and pollution due to atmospheric deposition. Further threats come from habitat modification due to climate change (McFarland et al. 2008), construction of wind farms, clearing for recreational development, development for telecommunications and increasing moose populations in parts of its breeding range (ECCC 2016). Certain forestry practices are considered a threat to the species and it's breeding habitat, especially the practice of pre-commercial thinning (ECCC 2016). However, dense new coniferous growth following logging may benefit Bicknell's Thrush. Recent conservation efforts have focused on preservation of the species' forest habitat in the Caribbean (Townsend et al. 2015). A Conservation Action Plan has been published by the Bicknell's Thrush International Conservation Group. For information on the legal status of this species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and to view available Recovery documents, see the SARA Registry.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Atlantic Northern ForestsAtlantic Northern Forests, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NB -- Conservation & Stewardship
Atlantic Northern ForestsAtlantic Northern Forests, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NS -- Conservation
Atlantic Northern ForestsAtlantic Northern Forests, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Conservation & Stewardship
Boreal Hardwood TransitionBoreal Hardwood Transition, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Conservation & Stewardship
Boreal Softwood ShieldBoreal Softwood Shield, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Conservation