The Varied Thrush – The Northern Robin

by Dave Hanks

If you are in “wild” country, and will but stop to listen, there is a whole cornucopia of sounds. Some sounds, like Elk bugling or geese honking overhead, are very intriguing. One such sound haunted my wife and I over and over again whenever we were in northern Canada. It was a bird call. We could never pin-point the location from which it came and, because it was a call we were not familiar with, could not identify the species. One evening, southward bound out of the Yukon into northern British Columbia, we were resting our bodies by lying in an open-air hot pool at Liard Hot Springs, B.C. We heard that haunting call again, very close this time. It was coming from a branch just above our pool. It was a Varied Thrush, and it was very mesmerizing to be soaking in hot water, out of doors, and having that bird serenade us!

This Thrush is slightly smaller than the American Robin, but it also has a reddish-orange breast. The breast, however, has a bluish stripe across it. The face also has a stripe across the eye, and the male’s back and crown are a bluish tint. This summer resident of the far north migrates to the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts for the winter months. We have even been lucky enough to have had one of them in our yard one spring – a rare southern Idaho occurrence.

Varied Thrushes like to nest in mature, coniferous woodlands that are dense and moist. If you have been in the far north, you will realize that there are lots of insects. These birds like to spend much time in the trees feeding upon them and will defend their feeding territory from intruders. They do this by first turning their back and giving a tail-up display. If that doesn’t work, the male will then turn to face the problem and extend his wings to display the colors on his under-wings, plus the white tips on his tail. The tail is then extended over his head.

The logging of mature forests has caused a reduction of breeding populations of this species. My wife has a love affair with this beautiful bird, and we would feel sad if we could no longer hear its eerie song.

Along the Oregon coast in February

Advertisements

Thrushes: A Family of Variety

This family contains many species in North America. The colors range from our three colorful bluebird species, the so very well-known American Robin, the Varied Thrush (with its orangey underside), the grayish/brown Townsend’s Solitaire with its white eye ring and longer tail, to the brownish (more difficult to identify) species. The brown ones most common to southern Idaho are the Hermit Thrush and Swainson’s Thrush.

The Hermit is characterized by its reddish/rusty tail. It is also darker and more heavily spotted on its underside. Swainson’s has fewer spots and has a slightly creamy throat.

Even though our continent has a wide variety of Thrushes, they are considered as “Old World” species. There are more species in the eastern hemisphere than in ours. Thrushes are small to medium-sized birds, that are plump, soft-plumaged, and in the family Turdidae. They are to be found in wooded areas and usually feeding on the ground. Their diet includes insects, worms, snails, and fruit.

Many species are permanent residents of warm climates, but others migrate over long distances. The American Robin does not always migrate – the males especially. We have many berry producing bushes and fruit producing trees on our small farm. The result is that we always have some robins on our place all year long.

The songs of many thrushes (like the Wood Thrush of the east) are considered to be among the most beautiful in the bird world. Once in Northern British Columbia, we were recuperating from long distances of travel by soaking in a hot pool – called Liard Hot Springs. We suddenly heard a most intriguing and mesmerizing song. We finally located the bird in a tree overhead. It was a Varied Thrush. It was hypnotizing to lay in the hot water, in the twilight, and to be serenaded.

(Dave Hanks)

Hermit Thrush top – Swainson’s Thrush bottom

Hermit Thrush

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

The Varied Thrush – The Northern Robin

If you are in “wild” country, and will but stop to listen, there is a whole cornucopia of sounds. Some sounds, like Elk bugling or geese honking overhead, are very intriguing. One such sound haunted my wife and I over and over again whenever we were in northern Canada. It was a bird call. We could never pin-point the location from which it came and, because it was a call we were not familiar with, could not identify the species. One evening, southward bound out of the Yukon into northern British Columbia, we were resting our bodies by lying in an open-air hot pool at Liard Hot Springs, B.C. We heard that haunting call again, very close this time. It was coming from a branch just above our pool. It was a Varied Thrush, and it was very mesmerizing to be soaking in hot water, out of doors, and having that bird serenade us!

This Thrush is slightly smaller than the American Robin, but it also has a reddish-orange breast. The breast, however, has a bluish stripe across it. The face also has a stripe across the eye, and the male’s back and crown are a bluish tint. This summer resident of the far north migrates to the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts for the winter months. We have even been lucky enough to have had one of them in our yard one spring – a rare southern Idaho occurrence.

Varied Thrushes like to nest in mature, coniferous woodlands that are dense and moist. If you have been in the far north, you will realize that there are lots of insects. These birds like to spend much time in the trees feeding upon them and will defend their feeding territory from intruders. They do this by first turning their back and giving a tail-up display. If that doesn’t work, the male will then turn to face the problem and extend his wings to display the colors on his under-wings, plus the white tips on his tail. The tail is then extended over his head.

The logging of mature forests has caused a reduction of breeding populations of this species. My wife has a love affair with this beautiful bird, and we would feel sad if we could no longer hear its eerie song.

(Along the Oregon coast in February)