The only member of the genus Hylocichla, the Wood Thrush was described by German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1789. The generic name is a direct translation of its common name, derived from the Greek words hyle/ύλη "woodland" and cichle/κιχλη "thrush" or "fieldfare". The specific name comes from the Latin mustela "weasel". It is closely related to the other typical American thrushes of the genus Catharus, and is sometimes merged into that genus;. It has been considered close to the long-distance migrant species of that genus, as opposed to the generally resident nightingale-thrushes, but this appears to be erroneous. The Wood Thrush also appears to be fairly closely related to the large Turdus thrushes, such as the American Robin.
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