BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND AND EASTERN NEW YORK - HOFFMANN

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PERCHING BIRDS: ORDER PASSERES

THRUSHES: FAMILY TURDIDÆ

Five brown, wood-haunting Thrushes occur in various portions of New York and New England. They resemble one another closely in their general appearance and behavior, and in the quality of their voices. Only one, the Veery or Wilson's Thrush, occurs in summer throughout New England and New York. The Wood Thrush is common in southern New England; the Hermit Thrush and the Olive-backed are common in northern New England. All are shy and more commonly heard than seen; when singing, however, they often sit for a long time on one perch, generally on some low bough, and may be discovered if one approaches them carefully. The Brown Thrush, so called, or Brown Thrasher, is not properly a Thrush.

[EASTERN] BLUEBIRD. Sialia sialis
7.01 in.

Ad. ♂.— Entire upper parts bright blue, particularly when seen in strong light; throat, breast, and sides reddish-brown; belly whitish. Ad. ♀.— Upper parts grayish, but in flight showing blue on the rump, wings, and tail; the reddish-brown of the under parts much paler than in the ♂. Im.— Back spotted with whitish; throat and breast whitish, mottled with brownish spots.

Nest, in a hollow limb, box, or knot-hole, lined with grass. Eggs, light blue.

In southern Connecticut and Rhode Island, especially along the Sound, and in the lower Hudson Valley, small flocks of bluebirds spend the winter, feeding largely on berries. In most of New England and New York, however, the Bluebird is only a summer resident, common from early March through October. The breeding birds arrive soon after the first warm days of March; a little later the northern migrants are seen flying over, singly, in pairs, or in small flocks.

The Bluebird frequents country where more or less open ground is broken by low trees or bushes; an old apple orchard is a typical haunt. From some low point of vantage, a post or bough, it watches the ground, flying down at intervals to secure an insect. From the first of April, the warbling of the male becomes less frequent, and by the middle of the month the bird is comparatively silent. The female is now sitting in some hollow limb, or in a box or jar provided for her. In June the second brood is raised, and during the second mating season there is a renewal of the song. The late summer and early fall find the Bluebird in small groups, often associated with Chipping Sparrows, feeding all through the open farming country. Snatches of the spring song are now not infrequently heard, but the characteristic note of this season is the call-note, cher-wee, uttered by old and young of both sexes. When the parents are attending their young, they utter a peculiar chatter, like the syllables chut-ut-ut. The song is simple, and consists chiefly of variations on the call-note; its charm is due to the gentleness and richness of the voice, and its association with early spring.

The Bluebird should be confused with no other blue bird; the Indigo-bird is blue on the breast, while the Bird's breast is reddish-brown; the female Bluebird is dull-colored, but both females and young show blue in flight. The Bluebird when perched looks round-shouldered, and the male nearly always flutters a wing on alighting.



AMERICAN ROBIN. Merula migratoria [Turdus Migratorius].
10.00 in.

♂.— Head black, a white spot above the eye; back grayish; wings brown; breast bay; tail black, outer feathers tipped with white. ♀.— Head the same color as back; breast paler than in ♂ . Im.— Breast spotted with black.

Nest, of grass and mud. Eggs, blue.

Small flocks of Robins sometimes spend the winter even in northern New England, feeding on the berries of the mountain ash. In southern New England and the lower Hudson Valley, especially near the sea-coast, Robins often winter in large flocks; they rarely come into the villages, but live in thick groves or swamps of cedar, on the berries of which they feed. The flocks in winter seem to be made up entirely of males. In late January or early February, large flocks of Robins generally appear in the cedar groves, even when there have been none observed previously. In early March the resident Robins return, the males first, in flocks which feed chiefly on the hillsides; by April the females appear and the pairs are scattered about the villages, the males joining in the early morning and evening chorus. The nest is now built on the limb of a tree, or in some crotch, or on a projection of a shed or piazza; the same site is often used year after year. By the end of May the first brood have left the nest. The young may be known by their spotted breasts and by the harsh squawk which they utter. Soon a second nest is built and the male again sings regularly. In mid-summer the male Robins and the young of the first brood repair each night to some low wooded swamp; thousands occupy one roost, coming in from miles about. In the fall Robins linger into November, singing occasionally on warm mornings.

The song is a series of phrases rising and falling, four often constituting a series, which is then repeated or varied. The birds sing even before it is light, and after continuing for about an hour, cease and disperse to feed. Then there is desultory singing from individuals through the morning. Besides the single pip or pop of the Robin and the excited pip, pip, pip, it has a high, thin hissing note, very like the Cedar-bird's, but a trifle sharper. A common call-note is a shrill tsee, tsee, often followed by a low tut, tut.

When a Robin flies over an observer, the white feathers under the tail offer a striking contrast to the dark breast. Just after a Robin lights it almost always pumps its tail vigorously once or twice. When a Robin flies up from the ground, the white spots on the tips of the outer tailfeathers are conspicuous.

HERMIT THRUSH. Hylocichla guttata pallasii [Catharus guttatus].
7.17 in.

Ad.— Head, back, and wings olive-brown; tail reddish-brown; throat and breast white, spotted with black.

Nest, on the ground. Eggs, pale greenish-blue.

The Hermit Thrush is a common summer resident of northern New York and New England, of the higher portions of the Catskill region, and of Berkshire and Worcester counties, Massachusetts. It also breeds here and there in cool woods in eastern Massachusetts, and on Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard. It occasionally spends the winter in southern New England and the lower Hudson Valley, feeding at that season on berries.

In April and early May, and in October, it is a not uncommon migrant in woodland and thickets, flying up when disturbed into the low limbs of neighboring trees or to stone walls. Here, if it is conscious of observation, it expresses its excitement by slowly elevating its tail, till it makes a considerable angle with the body. This action is also characteristic of the bird when disturbed on its breeding-ground, and is then accompanied by a harsh, nasal speke, or a thin, hissing note, like the Robin's. It also has in the breeding season a sweet call-note, like the introductory note of its song; this is often heard about the nest, when the birds are not alarmed. Its ordinary note on migration is a chuck. It sings very rarely when on migration, and with only a hint of the power which it reserves for its northern home. As a second brood is raised in late July and early August, the male is in full song at that season.

The song of the Hermit Thrush is, next to that of the White-throated Sparrow, the most noticeable feature of the cool woods of northern New York and New England; it is heard both in deciduous and evergreen forests, but on the higher mountains above 3000 feet it is replaced by the song of the Olive-backed Thrush. Its voice bears a strong resemblance in quality to that of the Wood Thrush, so that the identity of the common thrush of any one region is often a matter of constant discussion among amateur lovers of birds. The ranges of the two overlap so little that it ought to be easy from a study of the map to make a shrewd guess; the form of the song should then decide the matter. The song of the Wood Thrush begins with a phrase which suggests the syllables ee-o-lee, and continues with phrases, often containing notes separated by great intervals. The song of the Hermit is divided into cadences of different pitch. Each cadence is introduced by a pure fluted note, then follow two or three higher notes, given with a tremolo effect. These are either all three on the same pitch, or more often the last two are a little higher or lower than the first. The introductory note is held long enough to give a calm, meditative effect to the song; it also serves to give the pitch to the cadences, one of which is so high that it is hardly to be heard at a distance; the others are very full, soprano or mezzosoprano. There are no bass notes, such as the Wood Thrush strikes, and no great intervals between any two notes.

Its reddish-brown tail and the trick of raising it slowly, distinguish the Hermit from the other thrushes. (See also under Fox Sparrow.)

OLIVE-BACKED THRUSH; SWAINSON'S THRUSH. Hylocichla ustulata swainsoni [Catharus ustulatus]
7.17 in.

Ad. ♂.– Upper parts olive-brown; eye-ring buffy; cheek, when seen in strong light, washed with buff; breast whitish, spotted with black.

Nest, in bushes or small trees, bulky and compact. Eggs, light greenish-blue, spotted with brown.

The Olive-backed or Swainson's Thrush breeds on Greylock Mountain in Massachusetts, on the higher Catskills, in deep spruce swamps on the southern New Hampshire and Vermont upland, and commonly all through northern New England and in the Adirondacks. In the rest of New England and New York it is a spring and fall migrant, a bird seen only by those who look for it. During the second half of May it may be found in roadside thickets, open woods, and even in the yards of villages and towns, if there is attractive shrubbery and if the locality is favorable to migration.

The bird occasionally sings on migration, early in the morning and toward evening; but on its northern breeding-ground the song becomes a characteristic sound. It is unmistakably the voice of a thrush, like a Veery's song inverted, going up instead of down the scale, but throatier, more gurgling, inferior in purity, richness, and suggestiveness to those of the three other common thrushes. Its call note is a sharp whit, which can be varied in tone and power; it also utters on its breeding-ground a note like the syllables chee-urr. In the fall, from the end of September to early October, the migrant birds frequent the dry birch-lined lanes or country roads, or the open glades of woodland; with them are often associated, both in spring and fall, the Gray-cheeked Thrushes described below. Both species are so shy that it is often impossible to get near enough to distinguish one from the other. If an Olive-back perches for a moment in good light, the observer can make out that the feathers under the eye, the cheek, so to speak, are of a yellower shade than the rest of the head; a faint buffy eyering, too, is a distinctive mark. The spotting is not heavy, nor does it extend down the flanks, as in the Wood Thrush; the entire upper parts are olive-brown, nowhere tawny. Sometimes the bird when startled utters its call-note, whit, or answers an imitation of it; this note is characteristic, and settles its identity.

GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH. Hylocichla aliciæ
BICKNELL'S THRUSH. Hylocichla aliciæ bicknelli [Catharus bicknelli].
7.58 in.; 6.25–7.25 in.

Ad. ♂.— Upper parts olive-brown; no buffy eye-ring or wash on cheek; under parts white; throat and breast spotted with black.

Nest, in scrub spruce or fir. Eggs, greenish-blue, spotted with brown.

The Gray-cheeked Thrush is a migrant through New England and New York. Its habits and haunts are very like those of the Olive-backed Thrush, and it appears at about the same time. On the higher Catskills and on the high mountains of northern New England just below the timber line, where the stunted spruce and fir grow close together, a smaller race of this thrush, known as Bicknell's Thrush, is a common summer resident.

As a migrant it sings less than the Olive-backed Thrush, but on the mountain summits its song and call-note are constantly heard, especially at dawn and at dusk. The callnote is like the syllables fee'-a, sharp and petulant, often rising to a high strident note suggesting a nasal note of the Red-winged Blackbird. This call, like the Veery's, may be much modified and subdued. The song is very similar in quality to the Veery's, though perhaps a trifle thinner, with a marked upward inflection at the close. It may be written thus: te-dee', dee-a, te-dee-ee, with a slurring effect on all the long syllables. On Mount Mansfield, in Vermont, the hotel is in the midst of the breeding-ground of the Bicknell's Thrushes, and is an excellent place to observe them. Much remains to be learned about their nesting habits.

To distinguish the Gray-cheek from the Olive-back, one must see the side of the head in strong light. If there is no difference in shade between the top of the head and the cheek and if there is no tawny color on head or tail, then the bird is a Gray-cheeked Thrush.

[Gray-cheeked and Bicknell's are almost identical but considered two separate species nowadays.]

WILSON'S THRUSH; VEERY. Hylocichla fuscescens [Catharus fuscescens]
7.52 in.

Ad.— Upper parts brown, with a distinct, though often not a strong, tawny tinge; under parts white; breast and sides of throat washed with yellowish-brown, lightly spotted with tawny-brown.

Nest, on or near the ground, in wet woods. Eggs, greenish-blue.

The Veery is a common summer resident all through New York and New England, wherever the ground is moist and there are trees. On the higher mountains it rarely ascends above a level of 1500 feet, and in northern New England is not common away from the river valleys. It comes in early May, but does not sing for a week or ten days after its arrival; then it sings freely till July. During August it is rarely seen, and probably leaves during that month or early in September. It may often be seen feeding in any shaded road that passes through its haunts, its quick run suggesting the Robin.

The song of this thrush, from which one of its names is derived, consists of three or four phrases, the last two lower than the preceding and ending with a strong vibrating chord, suggesting a sound muffled by a tube. The song proceeds from the recesses of swampy woodland, or ceasing, is followed by a low sharp phew or a higher phee-oo, which in turn may be subdued or softened or varied in tone.

The Veery's buffy, comparatively unspotted breast, and its tawny head, back, and tail, distinguish it from the other thrushes. The Brown Thrush, so called, or Brown Thrasher, has white under parts heavily spotted with black.



WOOD THRUSH. Hylocichla mustelina
8.29 in.

Ad.— Head and upper back, reddish-brown; lower back and tail brown; breast and sides of belly white, heavily spotted with large black spots.

Nest, generally in a sapling about eight feet up. Eggs, greenish-blue.

The Wood Thrush is a common summer resident of southern New England and the Hudson Valley, but north of Massachusetts it is only found up the valleys of the Connecticut, the Merrimac, and their chief tributaries, and along Lake Champlain. It is true that it has been found at Willoughby Gap, and at Lake Memphremagog in Vermont, near Mt. Moosilauke, at Jefferson, and at Franconia in New Hampshire, but in most of the upland country of New England — in Worcester and Berkshire counties in Massachusetts, and farther north, wherever spruce and fir are found, in all of Maine but the extreme southwest, in the Adirondacks, and in nearly all of New Hampshire and Vermontthe Hermit, Veery, and Olive-backed are the only common thrushes. The Wood Thrush comes in early May, and is only occasionally seen after the first of September. In southern Connecticut and in the neighborhood of New York city it is a familiar dooryard bird, but in the rest of its northern range it is a bird of rich woods, especially where there is young growth near water.

The Wood Thrush is in song from the morning of its arrival till July, often all through the day, especially in cool woods, but more noticeably in late afternoon and early evening, when many other birds are silent. After the song ceases, one may still hear in the darkness a pip pip pip pip, which serves also as the alarm-note with which breeding birds greet an intruder. In August the Wood Thrush and the Veery become silent, and are seldom seen; they slip southward almost unnoticed.

This is the largest of our true brown thrushes. (The Brown Thrush, so-called, is the Thrasher; see Brown Thrasher) It is the most heavily spotted, not only on the breast, but also on the flanks; is tawny on the head and upper back, and olive-brown on the tail. For a suggestion of the difference between the song of this species and that of the Hermit Thrush, see Hermit Thrush.



[MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD] Sialia currucoides

This vagrant appeared on Long Island on December of 2023.



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