Fieldfare Turdus pilaris, photographed by Arnstein Rønning.

Belongs within: Turdidae.

Turdus, the true thrushes, is a large cosmopolitan genus of omnivorous songbirds native to all continents except Antarctica and Australia. The majority of species are mottled brown in coloration, often with streaked or spotted pale underparts, but some species are darker in coloration. These include the Eurasian blackbird Turdus merula, the males of which have all-black plumage with a yellow bill and eye-ring. Females have more typical Turdus-pattern plumage, albeit reasonably dark overall. The song thrush T. philomelos, native to the western Palaearctic and introduced to New Zealand, is brown above and cream or buff spotted with black below.

The groundscraper thrush Psophocichla litsitsirupa of southern Africa is a heavy-billed species that has been assigned to its own genus but may be nested among basal Turdus.

More than four and twenty blackbirds
Published 23 November 2010
The Tristan thrush or Starchy, Turdus eremita, an endemic bird of the remote Tristan da Cunha group of islands in the South Atlantic, scavenging on a dead penguin (starchies have decidedly more catholic tastes than other thrushes). Photo by Lex.

Turdus, the thrushes, is a large cosmopolitan genus of birds found throughout the world except for Australia. The extent of the genus’ circumscription has varied between authorities, though most recent authors exclude the ground-thrushes of the genus Zoothera. Conversely, phylogenetic studies have indicated that the previously monotypic genera Cichlherminia lherminieri of the Caribbean and Nesocichla eremita from Tristan da Cunha should be subsumed within Turdus (Voelker et al. 2007). At present, it seems unlikely that Turdus will be further subdivided; as the basalmost species in the genus is likely to be the mistle thrush Turdus viscivorus, which happens to also be the type of the genus, any subdivision would require that Turdus be reduced to a single species and all other species placed in new genera.

The blackbird Turdus merula, a species found throughout northern Eurasia (and introduced to New Zealand). Only the males are black; the females are dark mottled brown and have grey rather than yellow beaks. Photo by Bence Mate.

Of the 60+ species remaining in Turdus, many are widespread and divided into a number of subspecies that may or may not be promoted to separate species by future researchers. As an extreme example, a study on variation between geographically separated populations of the island thrush Turdus poliocephalus, whose distribution extends from Sumatra and the Philippines east to Norfolk Island* and Vanuatu, suggested that there may be grounds for dividing them between nearly forty diagnostic taxonomic units (Peterson 2007).

*At least, it did. The Tasman Sea populations of T. poliocephalus have, unfortunately, since shuffled off this mortal coil.

The St Lucia forest thrush, Turdus lherminieri sanctaeluciae. Like T. eremita, this is a distinctive species that was previously placed in its own genus. Photo by Jean-Michel Fenerole.

The base coloration of most species of Turdus can be described as ‘mottled brown’, though notable exceptions (at least as males) include the grey and red American robin T. migratorius and the blackbird T. merula. Most members of the genus are more highly regarded for their voices rather than their looks, an attribute honoured in both the vernacular and scientific names of the song thrush Turdus philomelos* (“lover of song”). As with other speciose songbird clades, variation in song has turned out to be significant in separating closely related species. Both the Príncipe thrush T. xanthorhynchus (Melo et al. 2010) and the black-throated thrush T. atrogularis (Sangster et al. 2009) differ in their songs (among other things) from species with which they were previously considered conspecific.

*Older references may one of the names Turdus musicus or Turdus ericetorum for this species. Both these names have since been suppressed by the ICZN. The history of Turdus musicus is particularly turgid, as authorities had disagreed over whether the name should be applied to the song thrush or to the redwing (now Turdus iliacus) (Mayr & Vaurie 1957). Both T. musicus and T. iliacus appeared in Linnaeus’ 1758 Systema Naturae. Unfortunately (whether because he was unclear on the distinction between the species, or by a simple composition error), Linnaeus confused the two species’ descriptions: under T. musicus, he gave a description of the redwing but provided sources referring to the song thrush, while the entry for T. iliacus attached a description of the song thrush to references referring to the redwing! (The significance of Linnaeus’ sources to his descriptions has previously been discussed in the sperm whale nomenclature post.) Mayr & Vaurie’s (1957) application buried the name Turdus musicus and designated a neotype to fix Turdus iliacus firmly to the redwing.

Systematics of Turdus
<==Turdus Linnaeus 1758CC10 (see below for synonymy)
    |--+--Psophocichla litsipsirupaBKB15
    |  `--T. mupinensisBKB15
    `--+--+--*T. viscivorus Linnaeus 1758CC10, BKB15, M02 [=Arceuthornis viscivorusG73]
       |  `--T. philomelos Brehm 1831BKB15, CC10 (see below for synonymy)
       |       |--T. p. philomelosCC10
       |       `--T. p. clarkei Hartert 1909CC10
       `--+--T. lherminieriBKB15 [=Cichlherminia lherminieriJF06]
          `--+--+--T. leucopsBKB15 [=Platycichla leucopsJF06]
             |  `--+--T. rufopalliatusBKB15
             |     `--+--+--T. leucomelasBKB15
             |        |  `--+--T. fumigatusBKB15
             |        |     `--T. hauxwelliBKB15
             |        `--+--+--T. albicollisBKB15
             |           |  `--T. assimilisBKB15
             |           `--+--+--T. obsoletusBKB15 [=Planesticus obsoletusS18]
             |              |  `--+--T. rufiventrisBKB15
             |              |     `--+--T. nudigenisBKB15
             |              |        `--+--T. maculirostrisBKB15
             |              |           `--+--T. grayiBKB15 [=Planesticus grayiS18]
             |              |              |    |--T. g. grayiFS55
             |              |              |    |--T. g. casiusE52 [=Planesticus grayi casiusS18]
             |              |              |    `--T. g. megasFS55
             |              |              `--T. haplochrousBKB15
             |              `--+--T. lawrenciiBKB15
             |                 `--+--+--T. flavipesBKB15
             |                    |  `--T. reeveiBKB15
             |                    `--+--+--Nesocichla eremitaBKB15
             |                       |  `--+--T. amaurochalinusBKB15
             |                       |     `--+--T. ignobilisBKB15
             |                       |        `--T. maranonicusBKB15
             |                       `--+--T. fulviventrisBKB15
             |                          `--+--T. olivaterBKB15
             |                             `--+--T. nigricepsBKB15
             |                                `--+--T. fuscaterBKB15
             |                                   `--+--T. chiguancoBKB15
             |                                      `--T. serranusBKB15
             `--+--+--T. merula Linnaeus 1758BKB15, CC10 [=Merula merulaCC10; incl. *M. nigraCC10]
                |  `--+--T. iliacus Linnaeus 1766BKB15, M02 [=Arceuthornis iliacusL81; incl. T. coburniS05]
                |     `--T. plebejusBKB15
                `--+--+--+-T. abyssinicusBKB15
                   |  |  `--+--T. helleriBKB15
                   |  |     `--T. roehliBKB15
                   |  `--+--T. olivaceusBKB15
                   |     `--+--T. ludoviciaeBKB15
                   |        `--+--T. mandarinusBKB15 [=T. merula mandarinusVP89]
                   |           `--+--T. smithiBKB15
                   |              `--T. tephronotusBKB15
                   `--+--+--+--T. bewsheriBKB15
                      |  |  `--T. libonyanusBKB15
                      |  `--+--+--T. infuscatusBKB15
                      |     |  `--T. nigrescensBKB15
                      |     `--+--T. migratorius (Linné 1758)BKB15, S05 [=Merula migratoriaS05, Planesticus migratoriusS18]
                      |        `--T. rufitorquesBKB15
                      `--+--+--T. falcklandiiBKB15
                         |  |    |--T. f. falcklandiiHRS06
                         |  |    `--T. f. magellanicus (King 1851)HRS06
                         |  `--+--T. aurantiusBKB15
                         |     `--T. plumbeus Linnaeus 1758BKB15, L58
                         `--+--+--+--T. peliosBKB15
                            |  |  `--+--T. olivaceofuscusBKB15
                            |  |     `--T. xanthorhynchusBKB15
                            |  `--+--T. swalesiBKB15
                            |     `--+--T. jamaicensisBKB15 [incl. T. lereboulletiCC10, *Planesticus lereboulletiCC10]
                            |        `--T. menachensisBKB15
                            `--+--+--T. niveicepsBKB15
                               |  `--+--+--T. boulboulBKB15
                               |     |  `--T. simillimusBKB15
                               |     `--+--+--T. cardisBKB15
                               |        |  `--T. hortulorumBKB15
                               |        `--+--T. dissimilisBKB15
                               |           `--T. unicolorBKB15
                               `--+--+--T. poliocephalus Latham 1802BKB15, CC10 (see below for synonymy)
                                  |  |    |--T. p. poliocephalus (see below for synonymy)CC10
                                  |  |    `--T. p. erythropleurus Sharpe 1887FT08
                                  |  `--+--+--T. celaenops Stejneger 1887BKB15, I92
                                  |     |  `--T. chrysolausBKB15
                                  |     `--+--T. pallidusBKB15 [=Merula pallidaS89]
                                  |        `--+--T. feaeBKB15 [=Merula feaeS89]
                                  |           `--T. obscurusBKB15 [=Merula obscuraS89]
                                  `--+--+--T. torquatus Linnaeus 1758BKB15, L58
                                     |  `--+--T. naumanniBKB15
                                     |     |    |--T. n. naumanniVP89
                                     |     |    `--T. n. eunomusVP89
                                     |     `--T. ruficollisBKB15
                                     `--+--T. pilaris Linnaeus 1758BKB15, M02
                                        `--+--+--T. albocinctusBKB15
                                           |  `--T. rubrocanusBKB15
                                           `--+--T. kessleriBKB15
                                              `--T. maximusBKB15
Turdus incertae sedis:
  T. aquaticusJ23
  T. atrogularisV41
  T. aurocapillusJ23
  T. bresciensis Giebel 1847M02
  T. canorus Linnaeus 1758L58
  T. daguaeJT12
  T. felivoxJ23
  T. fuscusJ23
  T. mareensis [=Merula mareensis]S13
    |--T. m. mareensisS13
    `--‘Merula’ m. larochensis Sarasin 1913S13
  T. orpheus Linnaeus 1758L58
  T. poecilopterusE42
  T. polyglottos Linnaeus 1758L58
  T. pritzbueri [=Merula pritzbueri]S13
  T. ravidusHSS13
  T. roseus Linnaeus 1758L58
  T. rufus Linnaeus 1758L58
  ‘Merula’ samoensisS13
  T. saularisE42
  T. subalarisJT12
  T. subcinereus Sclater 1866S66
  ‘Merula’ subobscura Salvadori 1889S89
  T. terrestris Kittlitz 1831I92 [=Aegithocichla terrestrisD81, Zoothera terrestrisD81]
  T. ulietensisFP64
  T. ustulatusS05
    |--T. u. ustulatusS05
    `--T. u. swainsoniS05
  ‘Merula’ vanicorensisS13
  T. virens Linnaeus 1758L58
  T. xanthopusM03 [=Merula xanthopusS13]
    |--T. x. xanthopusM03
    `--T. x. vinitinctusM03 [=T. poliocephalus vinitinctusFP64]

Turdus Linnaeus 1758CC10 [incl. Ixocossyphus Kaup 1829B94, Merula Leach 1816CC10, Planesticus Bonaparte 1854CC10, Platycichla Baird 1864B94; Ixocossyphinae, Merulinae]

Turdus philomelos Brehm 1831BKB15, CC10 [incl. T. ericetorum Turton 1807 (nom. rej.)CC10, T. musicus Linnaeus 1766 (nom. rej.)CC10]

Turdus poliocephalus Latham 1802BKB15, CC10 [=Geocichla poliocephalaCC10, Merula poliocephalaCC10]

Turdus poliocephalus poliocephalus Latham 1802 [incl. T. badius Gray 1869, T. fuliginosus Latham 1802, Planesticus fuliginosus, Merula nestor Gould 1836]CC10

*Type species of generic name indicated


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[BKB15] Burleigh, J. G., R. T. Kimball & E. L. Braun. 2015. Building the avian tree of life using a large-scale, sparse supermatrix. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 84: 53–63.

[CC10] Checklist Committee (OSNZ). 2010. Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand, Norfolk and Macquarie Islands, and the Ross Dependency, Antarctica 4th ed. Ornithological Society of New Zealand and Te Papa Press: Wellington.

[D81] Day, D. 1981. The Doomsday Book of Animals: A unique natural history of three hundred vanished species. Ebury Press: London.

[E52] Eisenmann, E. 1952. Annotated list of birds of Barro Colorado Island, Panama Canal Zone. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 117 (5): 1–62.

[E42] Ewer, W. 1842. List of a collection of birds from India. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 10: 91–93.

[FS55] Felten, H., & J. Steinbacher. 1955. Zur Vogelfauna von El Salvador. Senckenbergiana Biologica 36 (1–2): 9–19.

[FP64] Fisher, J., & R. T. Peterson. 1964. The World of Birds: A comprehensive guide to general ornithology. Macdonald: London.

[FT08] Framenau, V. W., & M. L. Thomas. 2008. Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of Christmas Island (Indian Ocean): identification and distribution. Records of the Western Australian Museum 25 (1): 45–85.

[G73] Gauntlett, F. M. 1973. Notes on some Kashmir birds. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 69 (3): 591–615.

[HRS06] Hahn, I., U. Römer & R. P. Schlatter. 2006. Population numbers and status of land birds of the Juan Fernández Archipelago, Chile (Aves: Falconiformes, Columbiformes, Strigiformes, Caprimulgiformes, Passeriformes). Senckenbergiana Biologica 86 (1): 109–125.

[I92] Iwahashi, J. (ed.) 1992. Reddo Deeta Animaruzu: a pictorial of Japanese fauna facing extinction. JICC: Tokyo.

[J23] James, E. 1823. Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, performed in the years 1819 and ’20, by order of the Hon. J. C. Calhoun, sec’y of war: under the command of Major Stephen H. Long. From the notes of Major Long, Mr. T. Say, and other gentlemen of the exploring party vol. 1. H. C. Carey & I. Lea: Philadelphia.

[JT12] Jetz, W., G. H. Thomas, J. B. Joy, K. Hartmann & A. Ø. Mooers. 2012. The global diversity of birds in space and time. Nature 491: 444–448.

[JF06] Jønsson, K. A., & J. Fjeldså. 2006. A phylogenetic supertree of oscine passerine birds. Zoologica Scripta 35: 149–186.

[L58] Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Laurentii Salvii: Holmiae.

[L81] Long, J. L. 1981. Introduced Birds of the World: The worldwide history, distribution and influence of birds introduced to new environments. Reed: Sydney.

Mayr, E., & C. Vaurie. 1957. Proposed use of the plenary powers to suppress the specific name “musicus” Linnaeus, 1758, as published in the combination “Turdus musicus” and to approve a neotype for “Turdus iliacus” Linnaeus, 1758, the Eurasian redwing (class Aves). Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 13 (6): 177–181.

Melo, M., R. C. K. Bowie, G. Voelker, M. Dallimer, N. J. Collar & P. J. Jones. 2010. Multiple lines of evidence support the recognition of a very rare bird species: the Príncipe thrush. Journal of Zoology 282 (2): 120–129.

[M02] Mlíkovský, J. 2002. Cenozoic Birds of the World. Part 1: Europe. Ninox Press: Praha.

[M03] Morcombe, M. 2003. Field Guide to Australian Birds 2nd ed. Steve Parish Publishing.

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[S89] Salvadori, T. 1889. Viaggio di Leonardo Fea nella Birmania e nelle regioni vicine. XIX.—Uccelli raccolti nei Monti Carin a nord-est di Tounghoo, nel Pegù presso Rangoon e Tounghoo e nel Tenasserim presso Malewoon. Annali del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Genova, Serie 2a, 7: 369–438.

Sangster, G., A. B. van den Berg, A. J. van Loon & C. S. Roselaar. 2009. Dutch avifaunal list: taxonomic changes in 2004–2008. Ardea 97 (3): 373–381.

[S13] Sarasin, F. 1913. Die Vögel Neu-Caledoniens und der Loyalty-Inseln. In: Sarasin, F., & J. Roux (eds) Nova Caledonia: Forschungen in Neu-Caledonian und auf den Loyalty-Inseln. A. Zoologie vol. 1 pt 1 pp. 1–78, pls 1–3. C. W. Kreidels Verlag: Wiesbaden.

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