- Brown-backed Solitaire
 - Brown-backed Solitaire
 - Brown-backed Solitaire
 - Brown-backed Solitaire

Brown-backed Solitaire Myadestes occidentalis Scientific name definitions

Nigel Collar
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated June 5, 2019

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Editor's Note: This is a shorter format account, originally published in HBW Alive. Please consider contributing your expertise to update and expand this account.

Principally brown above and gray below, the Brown-backed Solitaire’s key plumage features are its black malar streak, dark cheeks, and the broken white eye-ring. Brown-backed Solitaires inhabit dense humid to semi-arid evergreen forests, primarily in the highlands, where it occurs to at least 3500 m. The species ranges from northern Mexico south to Honduras, and is apparently largely sedentary, although there is some indication of movements to lower elevations in winter. This solitaire is, like all Myadestes, most easily located by virtue of its ventriloquial vocalizations. It feeds mainly on fruit, which is taken at low to mid levels in the forest.


20·5–21·5 cm; 38–44 g. Nominate race has black lores and narrow, often ill-defined white supraloral line, broken white eyering, white submoustachial stripe, black malar , white chin and upper throat; rest of head dull darkish grey, shading to olive-rufous on rump and tail and richer rusty brown on scapulars and wing edgings ; white tips of outer rectrices; breast dull darkish grey, shading to paler grey below; bill black; legs greyish-pink. Sexes similar. Juvenile is like adult but with brown-edged whitish-buff body feathers, giving spotted or scalloped effect. Race insularis is slightly greyer on mantle and back than nominate, has more white on throat; <em>oberholseri</em> is more extensively and slightly deeper grey below, legs reddish-brown.

Systematics History

Editor's Note: This article requires further editing work to merge existing content into the appropriate Subspecies sections. Please bear with us while this update takes place.

In the past placed in genus Phaeornis and species name then obscurus, but latter became preoccupied when Phaeornis merged with present genus. Genetic data (1, 2) suggest that present species and M. unicolor are sisters. Proposed race cinereus (from NW Mexico) synonymized with nominate, and both deignani (from SW Oaxaca) and orientalis (proposed replacement for obscurus) with oberholseri. Three subspecies recognized.



Myadestes occidentalis occidentalis Scientific name definitions

W and EC Mexico.


Myadestes occidentalis insularis Scientific name definitions

Tres Marías Is, off W Mexico.


Myadestes occidentalis oberholseri Scientific name definitions

C and S Mexico S to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.


Editor's Note: Additional distribution information for this taxon can be found in the 'Subspecies' article above. In the future we will develop a range-wide distribution article.


Dense humid to semi-arid evergreen, semi-deciduous and pine-oak (Pinus-Quercus) forest, cloudforest, brushy ravines, often along streams (especially when vegetation greener than surrounding habitat). At 600–3500 m (to at least 1900 m in Honduras); lower in winter, down to 300 m in W Mexico (Sonora).


Apparently sedentary in most of range; descends lower in winter locally in W Mexico, and in Sonora disappears to lower elevations in Aug–Mar.

Diet and Foraging

Fruit, especially of Bumelia and Prunus. Forages mainly in lower to middle levels of forest, also in clearings.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Song , usually from concealed perch (and characteristic of highland forest), highly ventriloquial, a hesitantly starting, slowly descending sweet whistling, accelerating into squeaky, metallic jangling, jumbled crescendo; perhaps given in fullest form only in descent phase of display-flight. Calls include metallic, slightly whining, upslurred “wheeu” or “yeeh”, and nasal rasping “shiehh” as alarm.


Feb–Jul; may possibly extend into Sept (copulation also seen end Jul) and breed at successively higher elevations with advent of summer rains. Nest a cup either externally of moss, lined with pine needles or arborescent lichen, or made entirely of pine needles, placed on or near ground in depression on sloping bank, tucked behind exposed roots, or at base of sapling or boulder in forest. Eggs 2–3, brownish-white to creamy white with heavy reddish-brown streaks and spots; no information on incubation period; nestling period c. 17 days.

Not globally threatened. Fairly common to common throughout range. Common breeder in Mexico on Cerro San Felipe and near Cerro Baúl (Oaxaca). Fairly common resident in highlands in W Honduras.
Distribution of the Brown-backed Solitaire
  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Brown-backed Solitaire

Recommended Citation

Collar, N. (2020). Brown-backed Solitaire (Myadestes occidentalis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.brbsol1.01