Summer of Wood Thrush Songs

Early yesterday evening, when the sun was low but not yet down, two Wood Thrushes sang in the woods on the edge of our back yard. They sounded unusually close, the fluted songs rippling and overlapping and surrounding us in ethereal music that went on for several minutes, weaving an enchanting spell. 

The song of a Wood Thrush is one of the most beautiful of all bird songs, an inspiration for many poets. This year two have been singing in our woods since late April. It’s the first time I can remember ever hearing even one throughout the season – much less two. It feels like an extravagant luxury. Their songs are often the first thing I hear in the morning – one to the east of our home, one to the west, but neither very far away. They sing off and on throughout the day, and at times – especially at dusk – they sound as if they come almost together in the woods near the creek. These close encounters between two males create some of the most intricate and fascinating music. Sometimes they’re close enough for us to hear some of the soft, low notes of their full songs. 

A Wood Thrush is a plump bird with a shape similar to a robin, and a rich, red-brown back and white breast with bold dark spots. A reclusive, forest-loving bird, it’s often found near streams, scratching through leaf-litter for insects and other prey. Though still considered widespread in forests throughout eastern North America, their numbers have declined alarmingly over the past few decades, and they have become increasingly rare. Habitat loss is thought to be the main reason for their decline, especially fragmentation and destruction of forests.

The familiar, flute-like ee-oh-lay in a Wood Thrush song is actually only one part of a longer song made up of several different clear notes and soft, low notes, and trills. Individual males combine notes and phrases and trills in different ways to create their own variations, and a male may sing more than 50 different songs. A male can also sing two notes at once, giving the songs some of their otherworldly quality.

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