Hermit Thrush

Near noon on a cold, damp, cloudy day, a Hermit Thrush perched high among the bare top branches of a pecan tree. A small, dark, quiet shape against a dismal gray sky, it flicked its wings, flipped up its tail and lowered it slowly, over and over, each time calling a soft, soft chup.

I didn’t expect to see a Hermit Thrush so high and almost walked by without taking a second look at the bird on the branch. More often they’re under the bushes and shrubs or along the edges of the woods. In the blurry gray light, its coloring and markings were barely visible – darkly spotted upper breast, brownish back and wings and faded cinnamon tail, and I could only imagine the white eye-ring that gives it a wide-eyed and trusting look. But the shape, with head held high, and the tail and the call were distinct, and it stayed on the branch long enough for me to get a closer and closer look.

Its presence there – a little anonymous spot in a muffled expanse of grayness was a reminder – again – of how much I often miss. What I see and hear depends so much on how open my own mind is to the world around me, not locked inside myself. On this day, though persistent thoughts kept drawing me back in, I cleared them away now and then – and was lucky enough to see the Hermit Thrush and hear its gentle call.

While here in the South for the winter months, Hermit Thrushes are not as shy as their name implies, and it’s usually not hard to find one, taking no more than the trouble to stop and listen for the chup or watch in likely places. They’re fun to watch and seem to have regular habits, each day following a similar pattern of foraging around an area. Usually we have one in the bushes around our house, though I haven’t heard or seen one here so far this season, maybe discouraged by the neighborhood cats that too often hang around. A little bit like a Robin, a Hermit Thrush hops or scurries from favorite spot to spot, making its rounds – from shrub to stepping stone to potted plant to deck rail to the branch of a bush – stopping and looking around, and scurrying again, searching for insects and fruit.

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