April 20, 2013

Turing over leaves looking for spring – the Hermit thrush

This first thrush (of the six that visit New England) has returned. The Hermit thrush like all Turdidae, are brown backed and white bellied birds the size and shape of a robin. With varying degrees of spotting on the throat and belly, these forest birds forage along the ground, over turning leaves and kicking up twigs. While nondescript in looks the thrush family are vocal virtuosos, like the avian Susan Boyle, they fill the drip-green forests, cathedral high, with flute spun cantatas and rolling, watery arias. 

The Hermit thrush spends the winter as close as New Jersey and returns to New England in April. Separating the Hermit thrush from its closely patterned cousins the Swainsons, Grey-cheeked, and Veery can be tricky. Look for a drab, brown back with strikingly richer, ruddy brown tail. The Hermit thrush tends to droop its wings below the body, unique to the species, and often gently bobs its tail. They flit across the trail, low to the ground on short flights and seem nervous, wary of any human presence. Matching the coloration of dried leaves and spring dirt the thrush can be hard to spot so listening for the rustle of leaves is a good way to find one. Most comfortable in the fading light of dusk, an evening walk in the forest this time of year will likely turn up a Hermit thrush and soon the signing will begin. 

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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