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First Record of Red-legged Thrush

(Turdus plumbeus) for Florida and the


North American Mainland
BRUCE H. ANDERSON 2917 SCARLET ROAD, WINTER PARK, FLORIDA 32792 (SCIZORTAIL@AOL.COM)
MARCUS S. PONCE 5841 WINDMILL COURT, ORLANDO, FLORIDA 32809 (MARCUSSP@MPINET.NET)

Figure 1. The habitat in Maritime Hammock Sanctuary, Brevard County, Florida where the Red-legged Thrush was found is best described as maritime hammock, in this case dominated by Live Oak, Marlberry,
Cabbage Palm, and Red Bay. In the northern Bahamas, the species is commonly found in very similar habitats. Image taken 2 June 2010, near the site of the thrush observation. Photograph by Bill Pranty.

Abstract

Field encounter and description

This paper treats the discovery of a Red-legged


Thrush of the nominate subspecies (Turdus
plumbeus plumbeus) at Maritime Hammock
Sanctuary, Melbourne Beach, Brevard County,
Florida 31 May 2010a first verified record
for Florida and the mainland United States.
Possible explanations of the provenance of
this individual are also considered herein.

On 31 May 2010, Marcus and Tracy Ponce


visited Maritime Hammock Sanctuary, Melbourne Beach, Florida (Figure 1) to hike the
park trail. At about 1615 EDT, as they approached the trails southern terminus, Tracy
spotted a bird standing on the leaf-covered
trail just ahead of them (the location was
recorded as 27 57.164 N, 80 30.110 W).

Marcus Ponce noticed the birds red legs and


orbital rings and realized it was a species he
did not recognize.
They studied the bird at distances as close
as 7.5 meters until about 1635 EDT. During
the observation, Marcus Ponce was able to
take more than a dozen photographs of the
bird (Figures 2-4). It remained silent and on
the ground, flying only when the Ponces fiNORTH AMERICAN BIRDS

FIRST RECORD OF RED-LEGGED THRUSH FOR FLORIDA AND THE NORTH AMERICAN MAINLAND

nally walked toward it to exit the trail. It foraged by hopping, sometimes running short
distances, occasionally using its bill to scatter
and sometimes flip the leaves, reminiscent of
a foraging American Robin (Turdus migratorius), but the bird was not observed eating.
That evening, Marcus Ponce looked through
his field guides and identified bird as a Redlegged Thrush (T. plumbeus). When he realized the importance of the find, he posted the
sighting to a the local listserve. The next day,
beginning at dawn, he and at least a dozen
other birders searched the area throughout
the day, but the thrush was never relocated.
The Red-legged Thrush at Maritime Hammock Sanctuary was about the size of an
American Robin. It was rather uniform slaty
gray, with a bluish cast, slightly lighter below
and on the wings. The chin and proximal
malar areas were pure white; the throat and
distal malar areas were black, as were the
lores. The inner webs of the greater upperwing coverts and flight feathers were black,
whereas the outer webs were about the same
slate-gray color as the breast, belly, sides,
flanks, and undertail coverts. The tail was
blackish, with white tips on the outer rectrices seen briefly when the bird flew. The bill
and eyes were dark, and the orbital rings were
red, as were the tarsi and toes. The plumage
was in good condition; the tips of the rectrices showed some wear but not excessive if
feathers had been replaced when the thrush
last molted (perhaps eight or nine months
prior). The bird showed no signs of having
been in captivity recently. It remained at distances of at least 7.5 meters in front of the observers, never seeming especially wary until
they approached too closely.
Maritime Hammock Sanctuary is a 61hectare park located on a main barrier island
adjacent to Archie Carr National Wildlife
Refuge. The hiking trail is 4 kilometers long,
traversing coastal wetlands, coastal strand,
maritime hammock, and mangrove forests. The
Red-legged Thrush was located in a maritime
hammock. The relatively short canopy was
composed primarily of Live Oak (Quercus virginiana), Marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides),
Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto), and Red Bay
(Persea borbonia), with a dominant understory
of wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa), Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), Saw Palmetto
(Serenoa repens), and Snowberry (Chiococca
alba). Ground cover included Virginia Creeper
(Parthenocissus quinquefolia), Muscadine (Vitis
rotundifolia), and Earleaf Greenbriar (Smilax
auriculata). The local weather on 30 and 31
May 2010 included rain and thunderstorms
with winds out of the east-southeast and southeast at 8-17 knots, with gusts up to 22 knots.

Figure 2. When first discovered at Maritime Hammock Sanctuary, Brevard County, Florida 31 May 2010, the Red-legged Thrush was
striking even at a distance because of its red orbital rings and reddish legs, visible in this photograph. The dark tail shows slight wear,
as does much of the body plumage, normal for an adult in the Bahamas in late May. Photograph by Marcus S. Ponce.

Figure 3. During twenty minutes of observation, the Red-legged Thrush was noted to have a restricted amount of white in the chin and
adjacent malar areas, surrounded by blackish plumage. As seen in this image and Figure 2, the inner webs of the greater upperwing
coverts and remiges were dark, with the outer webs a similar shade of slaty gray as the underparts. Photograph by Marcus S. Ponce.

Identification
Red-legged Thrush is a West Indian congener
of American Robin, and it exhibits similar
habits, including being a common visitor to
gardens and lawns as well as inhabiting tropical deciduous, montane and lowland evergreen, and secondary forests from sea level to
1200 meters. It is resident in Cuba, the Isle of
Youth, Cayman Brac, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico,
Dominica, the northern Bahamas, and formerly Hondurass Swan Islands (A.O.U.
1998). The nearest Red-legged Thrush population to Floridas Atlantic coast occurs on
Grand Bahama Island (White 1998). West
End on Grand Bahama is 108 kilometers from
West Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, Flori-

VOLUME 64 (2010) NUMBER 3

da and about 220 kilometers from the Brevard


County location; West Palm Beach is about
158 kilometers from Melbourne Beach.
Clement (2000) and Collar (2005) recognize six subspecies of Red-legged Thrush,
each resident within its range: nominate
plumbeus, inhabiting the northern Bahamas
(Grand Bahama, the Abacos, Andros, New
Providence, Eleuthera, and Cat Island); schistaceus of eastern Cuba (Holgun, Santiago de
Cuba, and Guantnamo provinces); rubripes
of central and western Cuba and the Isle of
Youth; coryi of Cayman Brac; ardosiaceus of
Puerto Rico and Hispaniola (including the islands of Gonve and Tortue, Hati); and albiventris of Dominica. Some authorities recog-

FIRST RECORD OF RED-LEGGED THRUSH FOR FLORIDA AND THE NORTH AMERICAN MAINLAND

Figure 4. The Red-legged Thrush at Maritime Hammock Sanctuary was seen only near the southern terminus of the trail, where it
foraged in leaf litter on the trail. It could be identified as a bird of the nominate subspecies (restricted to the northern Bahamas) by
its dark bill, which rules out four other subspecies (schistaceus, rubripes, coryi, and ardosiaceus), which have mostly reddish bills, as
well albiventris, which has a yellowish bill and legs. These five subspecies also show more white in the throat than the nominate and
show pale buff or orange in the flanks and ventral area, lacking in the Bahamian birds. Photograph by Marcus S. Ponce.

nize two species in this complex, Eastern


Red-legged Thrush (T. plumbeus) and Western Red-legged Thrush (T. ardosiaceus) (Collar 2005); the latter includes ardosiaceus but
also albiventris of Dominica, which is believed
to have been introduced there from the eastern Greater Antilles (Ricklefs and Bermingham 2008). Red-legged Thrush and the paler
but otherwise similar Grand Cayman Thrush
(T. ravidus), now extinct, formed a superspecies (Sibley and Monroe 1990), and both
have been placed in the genus Mimocichla by
some authorities (A.O.U. 1998).
Based on Clements (2000) descriptions,
the uniform coloration and condition of the
upperwing coverts indicate that the Brevard
thrush was in its third calendar year or older
and was of the nominate subspecies, which
shows a dark bill, has a limited amount of
white on the head, and lacks the contrasting
color of the belly and flanks found in the other taxa. The subspecies schistaceus is similar to
the nominate but has more white on the chin
and malar regions, shows pale buff/orange on
the lower flanks and vent, and has a red bill
with dusky tip. The subspecies rubripes, coryi,
and ardosiaceus also have red bills and show
more white on the throat than the nominate;
these three subspecies also show pale orange
on the belly and flanks, pale undertail coverts,
and distinct white tips on all rectrices except
the central pair. The subspecies found in Dominica, albiventris, is similar to ardosiaceus but
has a yellow bill, orbital rings, tarsi, and toes.

Discussion
The question of provenance is often raised
when a West Indian species appears in Florida, not only because Florida is an important

entry for imported birds, and home to many


exotic avian collections, but also because
some Caribbean cultures do capture native
landbirds for the cage bird trade, and some of
these are illegally imported into Florida
(Sykes et al. 20006). Native thrushes are still
popular cage birds in Mexico, and apparent
vagrant thrushes to states on the southern U.
S. border are often scrutinized for signs of recent captivity (e.g., Van Doren 2010). However, Red-legged Thrush is apparently unknown
as a cage bird in the Bahamas (Anthony
White, in litt.). The trapping of native birds in
the Bahamas is illegal, and White does not
know of any Bahamian culture that keeps
caged native passerine species. Moreover, we
could locate no record of a Red-legged
Thrush being imported to the United States.
A search of Softbills For Sale, a website listing
bird species for sale in the United States
(<http://www.softbillsforsale.com/softbillssale.asp>), turned up no New World thrushes, and the International Species Information
System (ISIS 2010) lists no Red-legged
Thrush in captivity. Paul W. Sykes, Jr. (in litt.)
has investigated the bird trade in southern
Florida in recent years and has not seen the
species in captivity, nor has Larry Manfredi
(in litt.), a long-time Miami-Dade County resident and bird guide.
There are three cruise ship lines that provide regular service between Cape Canaveral,
in Brevard County, and the Bahamas, and such
traffic could serve as a vector for transportation of Bahamian birds to Florida. Cape
Canaveral is about 38 kilometers north of
Melbourne Beach. However, no other Bahamian bird species have been recorded in Brevard
County, which suggests that the cruise ships

are not involved in transporting significant


numbers of birds from the Bahamas.
Floridas bird history is replete with West
Indian strays and colonizers. Smooth-billed
Anis (Crotophaga ani) began immigrating into
the state in the early twentieth century and
became established as a breeding species in
the 1930s; new immigrants are reported almost annually in spring in the Florida Keys,
where anis do not breed. Antillean
Nighthawks (Chordeiles gundlachii) colonized
the lower Keys in the early 1940s, and a West
Indian subspecies of Cave Swallow (Petrochelidon fulva fulva) was first found breeding in
Florida in the mid-1980s. Western Spindalis
(Spindalis zena) appears annually in the state
and has nested at least once, while Shiny
Cowbirds (Molothrus bonariensis) continue to
immigrate and almost certainly breed in the
state. Masked Ducks (Nomonyx dominicus),
La Sagras Flycatchers (Myiarchus sagre), and
Bananaquits (Cereba flaveola) appear annually or nearly so; Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus) of the West Indian populations also appear almost annually in the state. Other West
Indian vagrants that occur sporadically (more
than three accepted reports) include Least
Grebe (Tachybaptus dominicus; has successfully nested at least once), Zenaida Dove (Zenaida aurita), Key West Quail-Dove (Geotrygon
chrysia), Ruddy Quail-Dove (G. montana), Bahama Woodstar (Calliphlox evelynae), Thickbilled Vireo (Vireo crassirostris), Bahama Swallow (Tachycineta cyaneoviridis), Bahama
Mockingbird (Mimus gundlachii), Yellowfaced Grassquit (Tiaris olivaceus olivaceus),
and Black-faced Grassquit (T. bicolor). Seven
West Indian species or subspecies have been
verified in Florida fewer than four times:
Scaly-naped Pigeon (Patagioenas squamosa),
White-collared Swift (Streptoprocne zonaris
pallidifrons), Antillean Palm-Swift (Tachornis
phoenicobia), Cuban Pewee (Contopus caribaeus), Loggerhead Kingbird (Tyrannus caudifasciatus caudifasciatus/flavescens), Cuban
Martin (Progne cryptoleuca), and Tawnyshouldered Blackbird (Agelaius humeralis)
(Robertson and Woolfenden 1992, Stevenson
and Anderson 1994, Pranty 2005, 2006,
2007a, 2007b, 2007c, 2008a, 2008b, 2009a,
2009b, 2009c).
Many island species have colonized the
West Indies by immigrating to nearby islands,
and most of those resident not far from Florida are expected to reach Florida eventually.
However, it appears that the Red-legged
Thrush, a wide-ranging species, has barriers
that limit its vagrancy, as reports of vagrants
are very few. Bradley (2000) reports that at
least one bird of the subspecies coryi (endemic to Cayman Brac) was found at the east end
NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS

FIRST RECORD OF RED-LEGGED THRUSH FOR FLORIDA AND THE NORTH AMERICAN MAINLAND

of Little Cayman in April and May, 1992-1994,


whereas others on Grand Cayman from 1956
through 1965 (Johnston 1969) were all potentially the result of introduction from Cayman
Brac in 1956. Buden (1987) lists only one report for the southern Bahamas, a bird seen at
Great Inagua by Alexander Sprunt, but does
not provide a date or further details. White
(1998) found reports of this species from the
Exumas to be most likely in error.
In 1999, a committee of ten birders from
Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana predicted
what bird species not previously accepted as
occurring in the American Birding Association Area would be verified in a region defined as Florida and Southeastern Gulf Coast
(Pranty 1999). Most of the predicted species
are residents in the nearby West Indies, especially the Bahamas and Cuba. Several species,
including Red-legged Thrush, had been reported previously in the region but had not
been verified; this thrush was ranked as the
second species most likely to be added to the
American Birding Association Checklist (Pranty
et al. 2008). The Melbourne Beach bird appeared eleven years after that prediction.
There is only one previous report of Redlegged Thrush in the United States. Near the
end of March 1960, Ben and Gretchen Kincaid identified a Red-legged Thrush in their
Miami yard, about 120 kilometers from West
Palm Beach. They did not provide a detailed
description, or report it immediately, because
they reasonably assumed it was an escapee
(Stevenson 1960).

Conclusions
The Red-legged Thrush found 31 May 2010 at
Melbourne Beach was in suitable habitat for
the species, showed no signs of having been
in captivity, and was 220 kilometers from the
nearest population in the Bahamas. Although
the species does not seem prone to vagrancy
in recent times, strong southeasterly winds on
that date, or the day before, could have assisted this birds passage to Brevard County. Of
course, there is no way of knowing if, or how
long, the bird was in the United States or at
that location prior to its discovery. More than
twenty West Indian taxa of birds appear annually or sporadically in Florida, and a further seven have been documented in the state
fewer than four times. The available evidence
suggests that the Melbourne Beach Redlegged Thrush was unlikely to have been assisted in its journey by humans or by ships,
and we conclude that this species is most likely a very low-level natural vagrant to Florida,
such as Cuban Pewee and Loggerhead Kingbird. This Red-legged Thrush record was
unanimously accepted by the Florida Or-

nithological Society Records Committee 31


July 2010 and becomes the first record for
Florida (A. Kratter, in litt.).

Acknowledgments
Phyllis Mansfield provided information about
the flora at Maritime Hammock Sanctuary;
Paul W. Sykes, Jr., Larry Manfredi, Timothy
Brush, Jack Eitniear, and Anthony White provided information about Red-legged Thrush
and other thrushes in captivity; Dr. Walter K.
Taylor and Anthony White provided information that improved an early draft of the manuscript; and Bill Pranty furnished photographs of the habitat at Maritime Hammock
Sanctuary. All have our gratitude for their assistance with this paper.

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