Monday, June 20, 2011

Pacific NW specialty... Varied Thrush

Varied ThrushVaried Thrush, Beaverton, Oregon, 27 March 2011 by Greg Gillson.

 

Visiting birders to the Pacific Northwest often have Varied Thrush on their "target list" of bird species to see. Fortunately, this species is not rare, and are not difficult to find, if one knows where to look.

When I think of Varied Thrush habitat, my search image is of damp, dark, moss-covered Sitka spruce forests on steep, foggy hillsides overlooking the ocean in the Pacific Northwest. I know! My search image is something like this photo I took at Cape Perpetua on the central Oregon coast way back in August 2003:



Likewise, Varied Thrushes find their home in similar dense, damp high-elevation old-growth forests in mountains from Alaska to extreme NW California. Periodically, in winter, vagrant birds will be found far to the south, and even to the East Coast.

In winter, birds from the north or higher elevations move into the lowlands west of the Cascades. A winter snow storm will bring these birds out of cover and into backyard feeders and landscaping, where they favor fallen apples. As soon as the snow melts they disappear back into the dense brush. The bird photographed above spent the winter in my backyard in Beaverton, Oregon. But it never ventured out far from cover.

These birds eat berries, seeds, acorns, insects, and invertebrates that they forage from on or near the ground.

Their eerie songs are single hummed whistled notes, each given with a pause of about 3 seconds between them. Each note is a different pitch, first higher, then lower, but each far apart from each other. For instance, if they give a note in the middle of their frequency range, the next will be at the extreme end. This is very typical of thrush songs, even though this song is nothing like the flutelike, ethereal and very complex songs of that master singer, the Hermit Thrush.

Varied Thrushes appear similar to American Robins, also a thrush. They differ in the orange eyestripe and orange patterning in the wings, and black necklace across the chest. Males, such as the one in the photo, are darker gray-black above and deeper orange below than females.

35 comments:

  1. I have just found your blog today and I've been sitting here for over and hour looking thru all the posts and photo's. I have a few feeders that I've just put up and I'm so excited to start getting to know these little winged friends. I know your blog will be lots of help and such fun to read! I'm in Hillsboro so I'm hoping that as I'm out at the wetlands here and in forest grove I may see some of the beautiful birds you have listed. Thank you for your blog!

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  2. Thanks for the kind words, Heather. In two weeks I will be updating an early post, "Backyard Birds of Portland, Oregon," with links for every species listed to natural history posts that I have published subsequently.

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  3. Interestingly enough, I learned recently while in Montreal that a Varied Thrush was found there in 2007; http://www.birdingmontreal.squirrelworks.ca/.
    Nice photo!

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  4. Thanks so much for the information! I've been wondering what these adorable birds were, as they turned over damp alder leaves one by one in my back yard, looking for insects and worms to eat. They have beautiful markings.

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  5. We live east of Springfield, OR. Over the last month we have noticed a lot of varied thrushes on our farmstead. We own a plant nursery and one of our employees, who lives further up the McKenzie Highway commented that she see lots of dead varied thrushes (which we hadn't), until tonight. We found two dead VTs within 20 feet of each other beneath a large Douglas fir tree. We just had a major snowstorm here this week. Could it be that they froze to death? Temps were not much below 32 degrees F. There is no chance that they flew into windows or were killed by cats. Just wondering. Thanks. Greg

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    1. Hi there... did you ever find out about VT freezing to death? I had a similar experience here in Hope, BC. We also just had a major snowstorm and it's been raining torrentially for a few days now. We found one (alive) sitting on our doorstep for the night. We put seeds down for it, but it was dead in the morning. I figured that perhaps it starved/froze to death because of the storm. Very sad - wish I had brought it in for the night as it was obviously not doing well.

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  6. I saw my second one of these in my yard today. The first was last November. They are so beautiful. I'm new to the backyard bird scene, since I started working from home and installed a squirrel-buster classic feeder right next to the big rhodie in the yard where I can see the birds and they can duck in and out of the foliage to eat. I didn't realize these thrushes didn't hang out in neighborhoods. But then there are a lot of huge fir trees around here. Perhaps that is why I get some.

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  7. I saw my first one in my backyard today. I live in the southern end of Federal Way, WA, in a neighborhood with lots of older, tall trees.

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  8. Thank you, we just moved to Corbett, OR, and we've been watching these birds in the grass eating bugs, they are so pretty!

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  9. After two days of looking through pictures on-line, I was finally able to identify the varied thrush that's been hanging out in my apple tree. But, from what I'm reading, varied thrushes like mountainous regions. I live on the edge of a wheat field in Moscow, Idaho, just outside of town. This seems a little far from their normal winter territory, especially since the temps have been in the teens for several days. Is it typical for these cool looking birds to come over this far? We were also visited by stellar jays this fall and had a pair of bullock's orioles nesting in a maple tree in my yard.

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    1. Moscow, Idaho does seem a bit isolated from nearby forest. Undoubtedly, they are finding some protection and suitable vegetation in your yard. Nice bird! I'm not sure how common they are right in that area in winter, but suspect not very common.

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  10. We have a male Varied Thrush eating off of the squirrel corn logs on the squirrel feeders attached to some fir trees in the back yard. The bird has been there every day for the last two weeks and is very territorial, chasing away any Towhees, Junkos, Jays, and other birds that get near or on the feeders. Even witnessed it go after a squirrel that was feeding on one of the logs this morning. Nice to see some one here. Last sighting of this bird type was February two years ago on the deck rail below the bird feeders. We are located in Tualatin OR not far from the river, and have had everything from Kingfishers to Bald Eagles in our yard.

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    1. That's great! I saw several birds fly off the road shoulder at fort Stevens State Park near Astoria, Oregon today. This is a frequent way to encounter them on the coast and mountains.

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  11. Thanks for your picture of a male Varied Thrush. We have had one in our back yard for a few days eating dark red crabapples up in the branches of our tree. At first, I thought it was a robin, but then I got a closer look and was amazed by this incredibly beautiful bird and his song. It sounds like a cross between a robin and a meadowlark - very sweet. I went out in the back with my binnoculars and watched him for quite awhile. He didn't seem to mind. I was careful to move slow and be quiet.

    I have NEVER seen one of these birds before in my life and I've been all over the NW. What a treat this is for me! We live in Spokane Valley, WA, about 10 miles from the Idaho border and just a few blocks from the Spokane River. We have forest and mountains all around us, but not real close. It is a regular type of neighborhood, with lots of traffic, people and trains around, and a small airport a couple of blocks away. So I was definately surprised by your description of its habitat.

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    1. Congratulations on a new life bird!

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    2. Greetings. Yesterday afternoon I observed an unknown bird sunning himself in my bare oak tree. It took some research but I now know he is a varied thrush. I live in Grants Pass, OR, in a semi rural setting adjacent to a park and wooded mountains. My acreage is also wooded as well as open pasture. It is always a thrill to see a new kid on the block! Every year it seems there will be some new birdie wonder around here.

      Linda Carthen

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  12. We have at least three of them in our yard and they have been here for several days now. My 78 year old Mother spotted it and looked it up in her bird book to see what it was. We live by the ocean south of Fort Bragg, CA. About a mile in from the sea. We are enjoying however long they decide to stay. I am going to try to get a picture of one of them. It is fun to learn of these beautiful birds. When I found a You Tube of some of these birds singing my Mom said, well that is what I heard, I thought it was something going off inside the house, LOL. Thanks for the blog.

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  13. I live in Vancouver, WA. We have two baths, a big seed feeder, a hummingbird feeder and a winter/spring suit cake in our small neighborhood yard. We also feed the squirrels (our "pets").
    We get visited regularly by a couple of Varied Thrush along with the usual variety of Gold Finches (mostly the Lesser), Fox Sparrows (among others) and several Flickers. Not too bad for a small deck in "town"

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  14. Found your site trying to identify a presumably dead bird found leaving work today in SE Portland, about 2 miles from the river. He had flown into the window of the coffee shop and was lying on the sidewalk - made a guy from our office take him home to see if he regained consciousness. Beautiful bird.

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  15. Thanks so much for the blog...I was going nuts trying to identify the Varied Thrush at my feeders out here in Wilsonville! Sure enough, we're in the middle of snowstorm, which explains why I hadn't seen them before. At first I thought they were Baltimore Orioles!

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  16. I live in West Sherwood OR. across from farmland and have enjoyed a pair of varied Thrush birds in our yard the last few days since our snow storm started, they had never been to my yard before, very beautifull. I always make sure to put out extra food during bad weather. I make my own concauction of different types of bird seed, oatmeal, cornmeal, chopped walnuts raisins, and bread pieces.

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  17. Today I had a similar visitor today at my feeders in Mountain Park area of Lake Oswego - like your photo but chest was yellow (no necklace) blending to a white breast. Was this a juvenile? I had just put out apple-laced suet.

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    1. Doubt it was Varied Thrush, based on your description. Not sure what it was. A female oriole is colored as you describe, but are VERY rare in winter. House Finches can be yellow instead of orange or red--they are smaller. Perhpas you observed Evening Grosbeaks. They are yellow, gray, black, and white.

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  18. Had a similar visitor today in the Mountain Park area of Lake Oswego, but there was no necklace and the chest was yellow - blending to a white breast. Could this have been a juvenile? I had just put out a suet cake laced with apple & berries.

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  19. West Sherwood Or. again,,,,the male and female are still here after several days, and although skittish birds in the begining they have come up to feed within five feet of me. I love their song, it is like no other. Thank you for all the information about these birds on your blog. Carolyn

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  20. We live in Port Orchard, Washington and keep feeders full for squirrels and a variety of small birds plus suet for all plus 4 variety of Woodpeckers that live here. We have had a pair Varied Thrush all winter every year for as least 4-5 years. They get along with all the smaller birds. The Flickers are the ones who chase others away if any of them do. We have also kept 4 Hummingbird feeders going all winter as there have been so many Hummers that wintered over. We have a lot of large cedar, and fir trees. They keep us busy but so much fun to watch.

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  21. I live in Aloha Oregon and have at least 10 Varied Thrushes in the back yard daily . They love to be feed but are very shy.They have been here regularly for about 4 months.

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  22. I live in Cedar Mill Oregon, and have recently put out 3 birdfeeders, one with a tray on the bottom. To my delight, it has been visited by a varied Thrush. At first I thought it was a robin, but was puzzled by the banding, and the orange stripe over its eye. I looked it up in my bird book, and there it was, a real life varied thrush.

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  23. Just saw one of these off my back deck in SW Burlingame area, pecking around in some disturbed earth near a wooded section and stream. Nice to see on a cold November day. Thanks for the information.

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  24. I have had Varied Thrushes in my Vancouver, WA backyard for four weeks now. Just this morning there was one foraging around just two feet below my window, under a small Japanese maple. My house is surrounded by about 15 mature fir trees, two apple trees and one huge maple. There was originally just one Varied Thrush, but now there are two. They hang out nicely with the many busy squirrels, rabbit that has been in the yard for months, blue jays and many other birds. The Varied Thrush is a gorgeous bird, and I was unable to identify it until I found this site! I love having them in my yard.

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  25. Been enjoying reading all the posts on the Varied Thrush... I live in Snohomish, WA adjacent to wooded green belt... About a week ago I first noticed the VTs.. I was able to identify them via internet by entering "robin sized" birds... I hadn't seen them here before.. I have 5 block suit feeders that are busily attended by many many juncos, woodpeckers, lots of stellar jays, and chickadees..... The VTs get along well with all the species.. The VTs are truly one of the more attractive and fun to watch species.. I wish I knew of a sheltered bird house I could build they would make use of..... I hope they stick around for a long time to come..............

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  26. I live in Lake Oswego, and we have had a number of varied thrushes (including what look like attached male/female pairs, maybe it's just a coincidence) frequenting our yard for the past couple of weeks. They are beautiful and welcome guests. We have a pond and waterfall that make it attractive to a number of birds and also put out food, but I have never seen this species here previously. Meanwhile, the large groups of robins we normally have at this time of year are absent, with only one or two robins showing up occasionally so far. Interestingly, we also have a resident Douglas' squirrel in our yard this year, another species that, like the varied thrush, is normally only present in dense, older-growth forest, which this area definitely is not. I have seen them rarely in our neighborhood before, but they are scarce and this one has definitely moved in - I know where its nest is, and it comes out to eat the food we put out regularly during the day. This little guy (I call it the "caffeinated mini-squirrel") is a blast to watch and quite territorial, easily driving away fox and grey squirrels twice its size. We have had an extremely mild winter, so these deep forest animals are definitely not being driven into the area by snows, but I would not be surprised if the weather explains their presence somehow.

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  27. I saw a varied Thrush in my back yard last spring I live just off of 122nd and Glisen in East Portland.
    Been in Portland 35 years and it was the first one I have seen Have been trying to identify it and now I know

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