Four Hermit Thrushes after a Snow

Yesterday a light dusting of snow was just enough to leave the landscape looking iced in white – and enough to cause schools and businesses to close, and massive traffic jams in Atlanta.

Here we were lucky, with no problems, and today some snow still lingers in shady places. It’s a sunny day, but still quite cold. Late this afternoon I was surprised to find relatively few birds active around the neighborhood – I had thought the sun might bring more out – but even more surprised that among the few I saw were four Hermit Thrushes in four different places.

The first one was sitting among the bare branches of a small maple tree, repeatedly calling its liquid chup, chup. The small tree stood on the chillier, shaded side of a hill. The feathers of the thrush looked very ruffled up in the cold, but the dark spots on the throat and breast were easy to see, and it continued to call as I stood below the tree to listen and watch.

The second Hermit Thrush looked more comfortable in a warmer spot, foraging with several White-throated Sparrows, a Brown Thrasher, and a pair of Eastern Towhees on a sunlit grass-covered slope lined with a rough hedge of shrubs. The thrashers and towhees stayed mostly up under the shrubs, but the Hermit Thrush came out further onto the sunny, open grass, along with the sparrows – a slender, robin-like bird with brown back and wings, warm-cinnamon tail, and prominent dark spots on the throat and breast. It stood erect, with head held high, in a watchful manner.

The third one was foraging with several American Robins – and when I first saw it, I thought no, it couldn’t be another one – but it was. As I walked closer, at first the robins and thrush all hopped away from me, preferring to hop or walk, and not fly – but when I finally got too close, the robins all flew to nearby shrubs – but the Hermit Thrush just kept hopping ahead of me, head up, looking startled, but not flying, even as I walked on past.

The fourth Hermit Thrush perched on a branch of another small bare tree along the side of the road – again in a sunlit spot. Several Chipping Sparrows and a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and Eastern Bluebirds perched in other small trees and shrubs in the same sunny area, and flew from spot to spot.

It’s not uncommon to find a Hermit Thrush here, and I’m not at all surprised to know there might be several spending the winter in the neighborhood. There are certain spots where I usually look for one. But most often they’re so quiet and unobtrusive that they easily escape notice, so to find so many on a single afternoon is unusual – and a delight. The behavior of all four also reminds me that, although Hermit Thrushes are reclusive and quiet, they’re not necessarily shy.

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