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It’s in your nature: Listen for the song of thrushes

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    American robin numbers increased as settlers opened up the forest and soon provided them with short grass lawns to find food easier. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    This hermit thrush was photographed in January feeding on staghorn sumac. Note: it has more streaking on its breast than a veery or wood thrush.

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    Look for the boldly spotted breast and sides of the wood thrush. Usually singing from the forest under story, I found this one perched atop a tree. 

Published June 15. 2018 10:34PM


One of America’s most common and widely distributed birds, the American robin, is a type of thrush.

Actually you could encounter seven other thrush species in the Times News coverage area. Five of the species nests here.

If you’re a spring worshipper, birder, or live near and/or frequent a wooded area, you may be familiar with a most beautiful flutelike bird song.

The producer of this song is the wood thrush.

Look for or listen for it usually about May 1 each spring and expect to hear it still singing until about the first week of July.

Enjoy them while you can because their numbers are shrinking. Nest parasitism by the cowbird, but more importantly, continued loss of habitat in the tropical forests where it spends the winter, are to blame.

It is easiest to identify it by its song, but you can look close to the forest floor (sometimes hopping across a fire break or country lane), and note the bold spotted chest and flanks. It also appears a bit “fatter” than the other thrush species. Their nest is usually in a low shrub/tree a few feet from the ground.

The hermit thrush is the hardiest of the woodland thrushes. Other than bluebirds and robins, it is the earliest to arrive here in spring and the latest to depart in fall. I observed two or three of them still here in the month of January. I can also expect to hear them and see them as the first birds on an early to mid-November morning when I’m sitting in “Penn’s Woods.”

To distinguish them from the wood, Swainson’s, or gray-cheeked thrushes, look for them hopping on the leafy ground, or better still, watch for their nervous habit of slowly raising their rather bright tail. This occurs about every 30 seconds, whether they are on the ground, or if you flushed them unto a limb or stump. They nest on the ground often under an evergreen tree.

The very arrives here about 10 days after the wood thrush. My 40-year birding log never lists them here before the wood thrush. Rather shy and retiring, the “veer, veer” song will probably be your first indication they have arrived. The rather plain breast and habit of staying close to the ground will help. They too are seeing a decline in numbers, again due to the loss of their tropical wintering areas due to the deforestation going on there. They, like the wood thrush, nest in a low shrub or tree. All these thrushes nest only once a summer, unless the first nest got destroyed or raided by a predator.

I’ll again revisit the remaining breeding thrush here, the Eastern Bluebird, in a future column. Remember though that bluebirds are the only thrush species that nests in cavities.

Reminder: By this point of the summer, the bluebirds should have already finished their first nest, so carefully check your nest boxes and if the young have fledged, clean out the old nest and any parasite larva that might remain.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: The _____ since it has gradually moved north into Pennsylvania, may suffer frost bite on ears/toes on the harshest of our winters. A. skunk B. opossum C. mink D. bobcat

Last week’s nature trivia answer: The striped skunk is an expert at “sniffing out” lawn damaging grubs. However, once they find a smorgasbord of grubs in your lawns, their sometimes dozens of conical holes may cause even more damage night after night.

Contact Barry Reed at



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