Northern waterthrush, photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren courtesy of Wiki Commons

Northern Waterthrush

Look For

The northern waterthrush is very often confused with the Louisiana waterthrush because of how confusingly similar they look. To determine which waterthrush you may be watching, examine the head. The Louisiana has a bold white eye-line and plain unstreaked throat. The northern has a finely streaked throat and narrow, often buffy (not white) eye-line. It is 6 inches long.

Listen For

The one area where you can be confident in telling apart the Louisiana waterthrush with the northern waterthrush is their song. This bird’s song is very loud and ringing to announce its territory to other birds. It starts on one higher pitch and then accelerates to shorter, more jumbled noises. The call is a sharp chink!

Find It

The northern waterthrush has a forest habitat and likes to breed and nest near slow-moving bodies of water such as streams, bogs, and swamps. When migrating, it will choose more wooded areas.

Feeding Behavior

The northern waterthrush will glean bugs from off the ground. It eats a variety of prey including caterpillars, spiders, and beetles. It will also wade into shallow water to eat arthropods and even small fish.

Nesting Behavior

The nest placement of the northern waterthrush will be on the ground. It will find cover within the roots of a tree or in a hole in a fallen log. The nest will be constructed from moss and leaves in an open cup, sometimes with a leaf cover making a kind of entranceway.


This bird is territorial and will use its metallic chink call to ward away predators. Its song is also one of the main ways to tell the northern waterthrush apart from the Louisiana waterthrush. The Louisiana waterthrush begins with a few down-turned notes while the northern waterthrush will be steady and straight like the ground it prefers to nest on.

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