|Species: Varied Thrush
This shy thrush with its contrasting black and orange plumage and
eerie, penetrating song is one of the most distinctive birds of the
Northwestern forests. It breeds from Alaska to California and most
individuals winter along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to southern
California, with occasional individuals seen throughout the western
U.S and, during irruption years across the U.S. and Canada.
General: Large, brightly coloured Thrush. Pot bellied,
long-necked and short tailed. Length: 19-26cm, weight: 78g.
Adult Male: Burnt-orange breast and throat, gray to blue-gray
rump, back, nape and crown, distinct black to slate-gray V shaped
breast-band, orange-buffy supercilium stripe and wing-bars, black to
slate-gray wing and tail feathers. Bill is brown-black and
straw-coloured below at base of lower mandible. Legs are tan and
Adult Female: Similar to male but duller overall, with
upperparts brown-olive to brown-gray, wing and tail feathers brown,
and breast-band indistinct brown to slate.
Juvenile: Head and neck brown tinged with buff, with
indistinct orange eyebrow; throat buff; breast feathers buff with
brown tips; belly and undertail coverts white; and back and wings
brown, with two orange wing-bars.
Similar Species: Dark breast band and orange supercilium
distinguish this species from female American Robin and the two
species are so different that they are rarely confused. No other
North American species is similar in appearance.
Behavior: This is a shy species. It hops along the ground
searching for food using its bill to remove leaves and litter and
then hops backward to inspect the area for food. When foraging, it
searches an area, flies up to a perch and looks for another suitable
site to forage before going back to the ground. It may dive and
swoop through dense vegetation (sometimes hitting branches) when
engaged in territorial fights or when chasing intruders from its
nest. Flight from ground or between perches is direct, with rapid
wing-beats. It feeds on insects and berries.
Habitat: “A dark forest, with wet, mossy, almost completely
shaded floor is a requisite” (Grinnell & Miller 1944:356). This
species is closely associated with the damp, shaded coniferous
forests of the Pacific North-west. It is also found in ravines and
forested urban areas of the north-west.
This species is a short-distance migrant. While individuals that
breed in interior clearly migrate south in winter, it is not clear
if coastal breeders are resident or migratory. The few recoveries of
banded Varied Thrushes shed little light on migration patterns.
During the winter it is often found in flocks.
Nests are built on horizontal branches or in crotches, 10-15 ft high
and consist of twigs, dead leaves, mosses, bark and the cup lining
of soft leaves and dry grasses. Three to four eggs are laid and are
pale blue sparingly dotted with browns.
Conspicuous with this species is its evocative, ethereal song. Males
ascend to the tops of trees and utter their song while concealed in
the foliage. “There is a legend that warns wanderers of Northwest
forests to keep their heads when hearing the preternatural song of
the Varied Thrush. If you are alone, if there is a veil of fog
hanging from the coniferous branches at a certain slant, the song
lulls you into a frame of mind that makes you susceptible to
abduction by faeries. Evidently, they will caper you away to their
own faery-world, where years may pass in the space of a normal
hour.”(L.L Haupt, Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds).
This not a threatened species although many birds are killed as a
result of collisions with windows.
Low capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured
per 100 net hours) of Varied Thrush reflect the fact that
Colony Farm is not their preferred habitat. They
infrequently occupy the mixed forest of the perimeter of the
banding area. Capture of few individuals in April and May
reflect movement to suitable breeding areas and in October
reflects dispersion and foraging.