Thrilling Thrush Tracks

This is a guest blog post authored by Laura Cook, BIRD Research Coordinator, and her team of interns at Warner Park Nature Center, in Nashville, Tennessee.

In the fall of 2020, the Bird Program at Warner Park Nature Center launched our Motus research project with a focus on three migratory thrush species; Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, and Veery. Given the low recapture rates at our banding station during spring and fall migration, we hoped radio-tagging and the Motus network would help us to better understand if our urban park is an important migratory stopover. Warner Parks is a popular, 1,254 hectare metro multi-use park located just 14km from Nashville, Tennessee—an oasis surrounded by suburbia and busy roads. 

Warner Park Nature Center, Nashville, Tennessee. Credit: L. Cook/ Warner Park Nature Center.


A side-by-side comparison no doubt many birders wish occurred more often in their field of view: on the left, a Swainson's Thrush (SWTH) and on the right, a Gray-cheeked Thrush (GCTH). Credit: L. Cook / Warner Park Nature Center.


In 2020, we used CTT’s LifeTags but switched over to the HybridTags as soon as they were available. The day the transmitters arrived, our team prepped the harnesses for the next day’s banding session where we captured 3 Swainson’s Thrushes. One of those birds stayed in our area for 6 days and then 15 days later was detected by a station at Finca Cantaros in Costa Rica at 0630 UTC (1:30am Central) – our first foreign detection!

The first tagged SWTH! Credit: S. Bivens / Warner Park Nature Center.

Since then, we have put a total of 62 CTT transmitters on these three species of thrushes: 33 Swainson’s Thrush, 21 Gray-cheeked Thrush, and 8 Veery. Of those, only 12 have been tagged during spring migration: 7 Swainson’s Thrush, 3 Gray-cheeked Thrush, and 2 Veery. 

Until this year, we have had no foreign detections during spring migration – but this year we hit the jackpot. Three of our thrushes have had fabulous detections moving north!

Swainson's Sensation

A Swainson’s Thrush radio-tagged on 30 April 2024 remained in our area for 10 days and was last detected by the WPNC station at 0130 UTC (8:30pm Central). Almost 4 days later it was detected in Pennsylvania and from there detected by another 12 stations.

A SWTH handsomely cooperates for bird paparazzi during tagging. Credit: G. Gerdeman / Warner Park Nature Center.

Swainson’s Thrush Motus map visualization of its migratory journey northeast toward New Brunswick. 


Gettin' Cheeky With It

A Gray-cheeked Thrush radio-tagged on 01 May 2024 remained in our area for 6 days and was last detected by the WPNC station at 0130 UTC (6:50pm Central). It was detected by 5 other stations as it worked its way north.


Gray-cheeked Thrush enjoys the limelight. Credit: J. Atma / Warner Park Nature Center.

Gray-cheeked Thrush Motus map visualization of its migratory journey. Unexpectedly, it veered west after seemingly heading toward Ontario! The team postulates the weather on the evening of May 6 as a possible explanation: "A line of strong to severe thunderstorms moved through portions of eastern Nebraska and southwest Iowa during the evening of May 6th, 2024. Four tornadoes were reported; three of which were rated EF-1, and one EF-0...Other severe weather reports included damaging straight-line wind gusts up 71 mph and hail up to 1.5" in diameter."

Veery Good

A Veery radio-tagged on 07 May 2024 remained in our area for 3 days and was last detected by the WPNC station at 2350 UTC (6:30pm Central). It was detected 4 days later in Canada.


A very patient Veery shows off its bling. Credit: V. Roberts / Warner Park Nature Center.
Veery Motus map visualization of its migratory journey north into Ontario. 


A big thank you to Birds Canada, the extended Motus network family, the Southeast Motus Working Group, The Nature Conservancy of Tennessee, Warner Park Nature Center, Friends of Warner Parks, and our amazing and dedicated volunteers for making this all possible. Cheers to more detections! 

The team of banders who make it all possible! Credit: L. Cook/ Warner Park Nature Center.

Laura Cook is the Bird Research Coordinator at Warner Park Nature Center.  The Bird Program is funded by Friends of Warner Parks and offers public education and engagement opportunities and conducts long-term avian research at a banding station and on species such as Eastern Bluebirds, Purple Martins, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and Barn Swallows.