Olive Thrush (Turdus olivaceus)

Cover image: Olive Thrush by Gregg Darling – BirdPix 28166 Olive Thrush


The Olive Thrush has a dark grey head, back, and tail, an orange belly, and a white rump. It has a yellow bill with a dark base and on its throat it has a white patch with dark streaks. Its legs and feet are orange. Males and females look alike. Juvenile birds are quite spotty and pale in colour.

Identification guide to adult Olive Thrushes
BirdPix 125616 – Robyn Dickinson, Waterfall, KwaZulu-Natal, 15 August 2020.
Identification of juvenile Olive Thrush
Juvenile Olive Thrush – BirdPix 189934 – Marius Meiring, Keurbooms Forever Resort, Western Cape, 28 January 2021.

It has a wonderful melodious call! Take a listen here.


The Olive Thrush is endemic to southern Africa, with the bulk of its distribution centred on South Africa’s eastern and southern coast. Its range extends into Lesotho and Limpopo Province, with a smaller population in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands.

SABAP2 distribution map for Olive Thrush
SABAP2 distribution map for Olive Thrush, downloaded on 08 November 2022. Details for map interpretation can be found here


It prefers riverine bush and montane forest. It has adapted to alien tree plantations, gardens, parks and fruit orchards. In particular, Olives Thrushes like well-shaded places with damp soil and moist leaf litter. They also love a bird bath!

Turdus olivaceus in the shrubs in the garden
Olive Thrush in the garden – BirdPix 237844 – Lia Steen, Shellybeach, KwaZulu-Natal, 03 October 2022.
Olive Thrush have a splash in the bath
Splish-splash I was taking a bath – BirdPix 193803 – George, Western Cape, 8 January 2012.


The Olive Thrush is a rather shy and unobtrusive bird. It can often be found in the quieter corners of a garden, under trees and bushes, while it is looking for food. Although you can encounter this species at any time of the day, you are most likely to see it at dawn or dusk, because that is the time when it is most active. So it can be described as crepuscular.

It mainly eats earthworms supplemented with insects. It also eats other invertebrates and fallen fruit. It does most of its foraging on the ground, flicking through leaf litter in search of prey.

Olive Thrushes are frugivores, and eat fruit such as apples
An apple a day keeps the doctor away – BirdPix 167131 – A. Collett, Wilderness, Western Cape, 16 June 2008.

The female builds a cup nest, typically up to 6 m above the ground in a tree. The Olive Thrush especially likes to nest in gardens, so keep an eye out! The two to three eggs are incubated mainly by the female for 14-15 days to hatching, and the chicks fledge after about another 16 days. The young ones remain dependent on their parents for up to two months after fledging!

Olive Thrushes in the nest
In the nest! – BirdPix 16489 – Doug Harbottle, Cape Town, Western Cape, 03 March 2015.

Further Resources

Species text from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

Other common names: Olyflyster (Afrikaans); Umswi (Xhosa); umuNswi (Zulu); Kaapse lijster (Dutch); Kapdrossel (German).

Recommended citation format: Loftie-Eaton M and Daniel KA 2022. Olive Thrush Turdus olivaceus. Bird Feeder Project. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at http://thebdi.org/2022/11/09/olive-thrush-turdus-olivaceus/

Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
The Bird Feeder Project is a BDI citizen science initiative involving school learners and youth eco-clubs. Learners are taught a scientific protocol for doing 10-minute watches and recording the species they see, in the order they see them. The Bird Feeder Project includes an online identification guide to about 30 of the species seen in gardens in Cape Town. Students will learn how to upload their cellphone photos into the BirdPix section of the Virtual Museum, where they will be curated for posterity. The 10-minute watches will rapidly grow into a valuable monitoring database. Karis Daniel is the Project Coordinator and put together the identification guide, Megan Loftie-Eaton helped with the species texts.