Burt’s Birds (March 2018): Varied Thrush

Burt’s Birds (March 2018): Varied Thrush

If you see an orange-and-black bird of moderate size hanging around your feeders, you might think “Robin” and forget about it, but look again: it might be a Varied Thrush, a Robin relative sometimes placed in its own genus. They are handsomely plumaged birds with their contrasting patches of orange and black, including a prominent breast band in males; the colors of male thrushes are similar to those of male Robins—perhaps a bit brighter—and females of both species are comparably duller. But you are most likely to spy one of the thrushes during the winter when they leave their breeding habitat: the dense, wet, coniferous forests, primarily in the mountains, especially fir, hemlock, and spruce groves. There they feed on insects, berries, earthworms, and other invertebrates, sometimes using a fascinating way of feeding in the woods, by grasping a chunk of leaf litter, then hopping backward and tossing the litter aside to expose edibles on the bare ground.

In their dense forest habitat, male Varied Thrushes prefer to defend their territories by singing at dawn, dusk, and after a rain, from the tops of tall trees, reducing them, as Pete Dunne says, “to little more than eerie disembodied notes.” Their nests, probably built by the females, are placed against the trunks of conifers, and the typical clutch of 3-4 eggs is also incubated mostly by the females, probably for about two weeks. These lovely, interesting birds add a touch of beauty to our woods and our yards. (by Burt Guttman, Photo courtesy Eleanor Briccetti, Wikimedia Commons)