Photo courtesy Charles Martinez
This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the hermit thrush.
Ethereal, haunting, flute-like are all descriptions of the song of this small bird which inhabits our summer forests. Airflow in each of the two halves of the syrinx, the vocal organ of these birds, can be controlled independently. This allows the bird to produce two different sounds simultaneously, in effect harmonizing with itself.
Although the song carries a long distance, as its name suggests, the hermit thrush often leads a quiet, solitary life in the shaded understory of the dense forests and thickets where it lives. Unusually large eyes for its size are an adaptation to the low-light conditions of this habitat.
You might stumble upon a hermit thrush quietly hopping across the ground in a clearing in the woods, where it forages for a variety of insects, spiders and earthworms. It rummages through the ground litter for food, using its bill to flip over leaves or a foot to shake insects from the grass. Later in the season berries and fruits are added to the diet.
When startled the hermit thrush will characteristically perch close to the ground, flicking its wings while quickly raising and slowly lowering its reddish tail. It is smaller than a robin and has a brown back and pale, spotted underparts. A thin ring outlines its eyes.
The less common Swainson’s thrush, also found here in summer, has a similar appearance but lacks the red tail color and has a more distinct eye ring.
In summer, hermit thrush can be found in northern and mountain conifer and mixed forests. In winter, they retreat to southern states and Mexico. Now is the perfect time to choose a quiet spot in the woods and capture the magic of the song of the hermit thrush that seems to come from everywhere as it bounces through the trees.
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