The Call of a Hermit Thrush

A soft, silk-blue morning sky with high, white, windswept clouds looked beautiful but empty, and the woods and yards seemed mostly quiet, so my thoughts had drifted off to somewhere else. As I walked past an area of shrubs and trees around the entrance to our subdivision it took a few seconds for the rich, almost musical tchup, tchup calls, slow, with pauses in between, to bring me back to the moment – and to realize that I was hearing the calls of a Hermit Thrush.

For several minutes I stood and listened and watched, scanning the shrubs, small trees and vines. The bird continued to call, and it sounded as if it were right in front of me, but I could not find it in the orange, brown and green speckled foliage. Finally I saw a bird dive from a small tree down into the dense leaves of hollies, where it disappeared and fell quiet. It had been right in front of me.

It was frustrating – not for the first time, or the last, I’m sure – but nice to hear, and to know that a Hermit Thrush is here. For us a Hermit Thrush is a winter bird, similar in size and shape to a robin, but smaller, more insubstantial in appearance, and not at all as bold in coloring or in behavior. Its back is brown, with dark spots on a pale breast, and a cinnamon-colored tail that it raises and slowly lowers, over and over. A faint eye-ring gives its face a watchful look, and it often holds its head high with the bill pointed slightly up.

The Hermit Thrush is well named – subdued in color, unobtrusive, and somewhat reclusive and solitary in habit. But it’s not always hard to find, especially in winter months. Though it does most often seem to be alone, it may travel along with feeding flocks of other birds, and commonly forages on the ground for insects, seeds and other food with sparrows, towhees and others. It moves like a robin on open ground, running a few steps, then stopping and looking around. When startled, it may fly only a short distance onto a low limb and sit there, raising and slowly lowering its cinnamon tail, flicking its wings and calling a soft, musical tchup.

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