Species of the Month – Louisiana Waterthrush – October 2023

Photo credit: LPBLT archives

Sustaining Melodies: The Louisiana Waterthrush in Ontario

In the verdant heartlands of Ontario, a tiny yet tenacious bird is weaving its enchanting melodies into the tapestry of our ecosystems – the Louisiana Waterthrush (*Parkesia motacilla*). This dainty warbler, more accustomed to the bayous of the American South, has found a surprising haven in the forests and streams of Ontario, making it a unique and cherished resident.

Despite its name, the Louisiana Waterthrush is not exclusive to the bayous and swamps of Louisiana. This migratory songbird, belonging to the Parulidae family, embarks on an impressive journey each year, though its specific migration routes are unclear. Globally, the Louisiana Waterthrush breeds in eastern North America, including in a few areas of southern Ontario and southwestern Quebec, before making its way to its wintering grounds in Central America. 

Ontario’s lush woodlands, coupled with its expansive network of rivers and streams, offer the Louisiana Waterthrush a sanctuary. The Louisiana Waterthrush primarily inhabits riparian areas within well-established stands of mixed deciduous forests. It demonstrates a strong affinity for streams situated beneath steep inclines in woodlands featuring deciduous trees, occasionally with a presence of hemlocks. Nest locations are typically discovered along the edges of streams, beneath moss-covered logs, or within the roots of fallen trees. These nesting spots are usually effectively hidden by overhanging vegetation or tangled roots. Although it favours clear, high-altitude streams and their associated wetlands, this species will also take up residence in densely wooded swamps, which are more commonly frequented by the Northern Waterthrush (Environment Canada, 2012). 

Photo credit: iNaturalist user ziggypop74

Streams and rivers, particularly those with clear, clean water, are the Louisiana Waterthrush’s preferred habitat. These birds are known for their distinctive ‘seet-seet’ calls, which can often be heard as they forage along the water’s edge, probing for aquatic insects, larvae, and small crustaceans. Their distinctive white eye stripe and buff-colored undersides make them easily identifiable.

While Ontario provides a vital refuge for the Louisiana Waterthrush, the challenges it faces are not insignificant. Climate change, habitat loss, and pollution all pose significant threats. Conservation efforts are crucial to ensuring the continued presence of this enchanting songbird in Ontario’s ecosystems.

Did you know? Fishers Creek, Long Point Basin Land Trust’s most recently protected nature reserve features a perfect habitat for the Louisiana Waterthrush? Steep ravines dotted with hemlock trees, an abundance of fallen trees and a clean cold-water stream are all found on the reserve. 

Jackie Ellefsen

Senior Development Manager