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Louisiana waterthrush

Seiurus motacilla

What do they look like?

Louisiana waterthrushes have dark olive-brown upperparts, with a white supercillium that extends behind their eyes. Their underparts are white and their flanks are buffy. Their breast is streaked in dark colors. 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 25 cm. Hatchlings are covered in dark gray down. Their mouth is red and the base of their bill is yellow. As hatchlings age, they begin to look like adults, although immature birds may have buffy or rusty tips on their tertial feathers, their tail feathers may be more pointed and they do not have any white on their outer tail feathers. They are often confused with northern waterthrushes. Unlike Louisiana waterthrushes, northern waterthrushes have heavier streaking on their breasts and neck, but Louisiana waterthrushes 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

Where do they live?

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 in areas bordering the north shore of Lake Erie. Their breeding range is expanding northward, probably because of restored forested areas. 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 and in Winona and Houston counties. During wintering months, Louisiana waterthrushes are found in northern Mexico, Central America and northern South America, they also winter in the West Indies, the Caribbean and occasionally, in the southeastern United States. ("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)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Louisiana waterthrushes typically live in areas that have running water such as brooks, river swamps and sluggish streams. They prefer heavily wooded areas with sparse undergrowth near creeks with limestone edges along the banks, particularly in their northern range. Although they prefer running water, they can be found in swamps in the southern portion of their range, as well as during migration. They require at least 100 hectares of mature forests for their habitat and they prefer old growth woodlands. These birds avoid areas of high elevation. During the breeding season, Louisiana waterthrushes often nest along streams in hilly deciduous forests, in cypress swamps, bottomland forests or 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. They may return each year to the same 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

How do they reproduce?

Louisiana waterthrushes are typically monogamous and sometimes keep the same mate for multiple breeding seasons. Males often sing when they arrive at their breeding territory in mid- to late April or early May. When nesting starts, males stop singing, but they sometimes sing again after the eggs hatch. Louisiana waterthrushes aggressively defend their territory against others, their territories are rarely close together. ("COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006)

Louisiana waterthrushes lay one group of 3 to 6 sub-elliptical shaped eggs each year. Their eggs are smooth, slightly glossy and white or creamy-white in color, with brown or reddish-brown speckles. 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)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    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. Males and females build nests in 4 to 6 days in small holes near stream banks, hidden near tree roots or in stump cavities. Nest holes are filled with leaves, moss and grass; the birds often leave a trail of leaves or grass at the front of the hole, which usually leads to the stream. Nests are generally well hidden by roots and other plants and are usually 0.5 to 4 m above the water surface. Eggs are incubated for 12 to 14 days by the female. At hatching, their young are small and under-developed and are tended by both parents. At 10 days, young are developed enough to leave the nest, but still need parental care. After 16 days, young can fly and 7 days later they can feed themselves. Fledged young stay near their nest for about a month, after which, they begin to wander farther away. (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

How long do they live?

Louisiana waterthrushes mature in a year and have a short lifespan of about 8 years. ("COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Vuilleumier, 2009)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    8 years

How do they behave?

Louisiana waterthrushes often sing from branches and during flight. They have a habit of bobbing their tail, in a teetering stance, especially while searching for food. This tail bobbing is common to waterthrushes, their genus name Seiurus even means "tail-bobber". Louisiana waterthrushes walk on the forest floor, instead of hopping. When they fly, they are fast and direct. When they migrate to their northern range during the spring, Louisiana waterthrushes arrive much earlier than other related species. By mid-March, these birds typically reach the Gulf Coast, by mid- to late April, they reach the Great Lakes region and they have usually finished their migration by mid-May. Louisiana waterthrushes also begin their winter migration early. They may choose to return to the same wintering and breeding sites each year. About 50% of females reuse their territories from the previous year, often 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

A breed population of Louisiana waterthrushes probably needs at least 100 ha (1 km^2) of continuous forest to be successful, with each individual breeding pair using about 2 ha (0.02 km^2). Each pair probably takes up about 400 m along the stream. ("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)

How do they communicate with each other?

This species' song begins with three or four high, clear, slurred whistles, followed by a series of jumbled and descending chirps. They have another song that is similar, but much longer and more rambling. Their call is a loud, strong spich sound. Males are often quiet during migration and nest building, especially when compared to some of their noisier relatives such as northern waterthrushes, which begin singing during migration and continue singing during nest building and egg incubation. (Barrett, et al., 1990; Sibley, 2000)

What do they eat?

Louisiana waterthrushes are carnivorous birds, which feed mostly on aquatic insects and insect larvae. They also eat other small animals like mollusks, crustaceans, small fish and amphibians and terrestrial invertebrates, such as earthworms, caterpillars and centipedes. During the nesting season, waterthrushes feed mostly in and along streams or in stagnant pools near swamps. While foraging, these birds flip over leaves to find their aquatic prey. Louisiana waterthrushes also pick into crannies, forage on floating debris or catch flying insects in mid-flight. Louisiana waterthrushes feed fast, they try to catch 10 or more prey 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

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

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)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Louisiana waterthrushes are 'bio-indicators', that is a species that helps determine the health an ecosystem. This is because they are migratory birds that have specific habitat requirements. Likewise, their nests are often parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds, meaning that brown-headed cowbirds lay their eggs inside Louisiana waterthrushes nests. Louisiana waterthrushes often take care of the new eggs and raise the chicks once they are hatched, which may mean less food and care for their own nestlings. ("COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Mattsson, 2006)

Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host

Do they cause problems?

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

How do they interact with us?

Louisiana waterthrushes are used to indicate stream health and quality. They also eat insects that are thought of as pests to humans. ("COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus", 2006; Mattsson, 2006)

Are they endangered?

Populations of Louisiana waterthrushes have been declining for about 20 years. They are limited because their habitats are specialized and they are sensitive to changes. Their biggest threat is habitat loss due to a mining process in the southern Appalachian Mountains. In this mining process, the entire mountaintop is removed and the waste rock is dumped into stream valleys. This buries streams and increases the forest edge, damaging their habitat. Logging of old growth forests also reduces their habitat. Likewise, their prey is decreasing and the number of nest predators and parasites are increasing because human housing is moving closer to their habitats. Louisiana waterthrushes are protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act. They are a 'species of least concern' according to the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. In their Canadian territory, they are a species of 'special concern' due to their small population. ("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)

Contributors

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

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.

 
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Templin, T. 2013. "Seiurus motacilla" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 30, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Seiurus_motacilla/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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