Hermit Thrush’s Ethereal Song Defines Wilderness | Words about birds | Mail from Pikes Peak

Film soundtracks often include the song of the hermit thrush to create an ambience of isolation or an outdoor setting. Their song has an ethereal reed quality and lazily rises or falls, with each set beginning in a different tone. Hermit thrush calls include soft clucks and whistles in addition to buzzing notes. The syrinx, or “voice box,” of birds like thrushes allows them to produce more than one sound at a time, like a harmonica, resulting in the unique overtones of their songs. Keep in mind that when birds sing, if they are facing you they sound closer and if they turn their head they sound further away. In addition, the song of the hermit thrush has a particularly ventriloquistic nature; the sounds bounce around the trees, making it very difficult to locate the source, as if the song is being exhaled through the pines.

Thrushes are plump birds with large eyes and a slender beak. They are often seen jumping or running on the ground chasing insects and looking for worms. Most thrushes tend to flock outside of the breeding season, with the exception of the solitary hermit thrush and its related spirit, Townsend’s solitary. For migrant thrushes, their corpulent bodies tolerate colder temperatures, so they tend to overwinter nearby, allowing them to depart later in the fall and arrive earlier in the spring than other migratory birds. In addition to the solitaire, other thrushes likely to be seen in Teller County include the western bluebird, mountain bluebird, and American robin.

Hermit Thrushes are common in the summer and tend to arrive in early May, then typically leave our area by mid-October. True to its name, this secretive bird likes to hide in the forest. Their brownish body (a bit smaller than a robin) blends into the landscape, but a closer look reveals they are whitish below with brown spots on their chest. Look closely for a diagnostic feature for this species – the orange-red rump and tail – but this feature can be difficult to see. Also note their pale eyering. When disturbed, the Hermit Thrush will slowly raise and lower its tail, the only thrush to engage in this restless habit.

Hermit Thrushes’ preferred habitat is coniferous (especially spruce-fir) forest up to about 12,000 feet (tree line), in addition to aspen forests and edge habitat. They feed mainly on insects, but also feed on spiders, earthworms and even small salamanders. The hermit thrush changes its diet to include berries in the winter and they will sometimes appear at water bodies in the yard. Hermit Thrushes do not migrate very far south, wintering as close as southern New Mexico.

Notable reports in April from the Woodland Park Yard area (FOS = First of Season for returning migrants):

Turkey Vulture – FOS April 5

Broad-tailed Hummingbird – once in a while, FOS April 10

Williamson’s woodpecker – once or twice

Red-naped Woodpecker – FOS April 19

Downy Woodpecker – some observations

Tree Swallow – FOS April 10

Western bluebird – some sightings

Ruby-crowned Kinglet – FOS April 19, singing

Chipping Sparrow – two on May 1, FOS, singing

Dark-eyed Junco subspecies: white-winged last seen 6 April; Rose-sided, last seen 8 April; Oregon last seen April 13; Slate color last seen April 15

Red-winged blackbird – an overview on April 4

Cassin’s finch and pine siskin – a few most of the time

Evening Grosbeak – a few once in a while

Joe LaFleur studied wildlife biology and communications at Colorado State University and is the creator of “Better Birdwatching,” a DVD series on North American birds. Contact him with questions and comments at [email protected].

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