The Hermit Thrush is perhaps best known for its beautiful song: one clear, flute-like note followed by a series of ethereal, bell-like tones. People who hear this bird sing rarely forget it.
“One of my most memorable birding experiences was in western Maryland, where I was coming down a shady forest trail,” says Gemma Radko, ABC’s Communications and Media Manager. “I came across not one but two Hermit
Thrushes singing, one on each side of the path. I never tire of hearing this gorgeous song.”
The Hermit Thrush is one of five similar-looking thrushes in the genus Catharus, but is the only one that remains in the United States during the winter. One reason for this may be its wider-ranging diet, which includes insects and small arthropods as well as fruits and berries in the winter months.
Unlike its close relative, the Wood Thrush, this species seems to be increasing across its range. Even so, Hermit Thrushes migrate at night and—like many migrant songbirds—can be fatally drawn toward lighted transmission towers, wind turbines, and buildings, where they die in collisions. ABC's Collisions Program—the only such national program in the country—is working toward a variety of solutions to help keep nocturnal migrants safer.
There are three main populations of Hermit Thrush: pacific, interior montane west, and eastern. Each population varies slightly in color, size, and plumage pattern. Interestingly, populations east of the Rocky Mountains usually nest on the ground, but in the west are more likely to nest in trees.
A diagnostic field mark is the bird’s reddish-brown tail, which strongly contrasts with its duller, brownish-olive back. The Hermit Thrush also slowly raises and lowers its tail and flicks its wings while perched. The species tends to perch low to the ground as well, often in open areas such as forest clearings or trails.
Although it’s not the flashiest bird, the Hermit Thrush is a welcome sight year-round and especially in winter. “One Hermit Thrush has been wintering through ice and snow at ABC’s office in The Plains, Virginia,” says Daniel Lebbin, ABC Conservation Biologist. “We’ve seen it eating holly berries and avoiding the unwanted attention of a Northern Mockingbird.”