Wood Thrush, Hylocichla mustelina
My previous article entitled “Summer Birdsong” ended prematurely without naming the featured bird-concert soloist. Fortunately for you readers, I survived the oversight long enough to pen this “reveal” article. Since I have completely recovered from my error, I admit that the singing bird mentioned was the male Wood Thrush, and I claim poetic license for the seeming error of the female being the soloist. The vast majority of singing birds is by males except for a few species, such as House Wrens, with both sexes being excellent singers. The Wood Thrush song will be detailed later in the text, but for now, let’s get to know this amazing songbird.
Thrushes are medium-sized and significantly smaller than the American Robin. They have rufous upperparts, including top of the head, tail, and wings and white underparts with heavy dark brown spots that diminish in size as they surround the eye and cheeks. The throat is clear white, bordered by brown mustache stripes, and they have a white eye-ring. The black bill shows creamy pink on the lower mandible, and this feature is helpful in identification as it distinguishes them from the Veery and Hermit Thrush. Males and female birds look alike, and they are monogamous (mating for life). Other common thrush family members in Michigan include Gray-cheeked and Swainson’s Thrushes, Eastern Bluebird and American Robin. Of all the local species of the family, with thrush in the common name, the Wood Thrush is the most likely to be found during the summer breeding season in Southeastern Michigan.
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These birds are omnivores with soil invertebrates (mainly insects), and their larvae comprise most of their diet. They will also eat fruits in the late summer, fall, and late winter. After breeding and before migration, they change their diet from insects to fruits with high lipid levels. I found it interesting that during the summer, the low fruit consumption and resulting low lipid reserves require the birds to feed on insects continuously to meet metabolic needs. Oh, what one will do to put up with food favorites!
And finally, the song of the Wood Thrush has been reported to have one of the most beautiful songs of North American birds. American naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her spring; wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of Heaven are not shut against him.”
I described it this way in my prior article: “It started with a soft “po, po, po”, followed by the “e-o-lay” of the flute and ending with an almost eerie trill.” The first three notes are inaudible unless you are standing quietly nearby and the ending is described as a trill-like phrase of non-harmonic pairs of notes given rapidly and simultaneously (a sound that one individual bird can make since the syrinx (unlike our larynx) can make two sounds simultaneously! The Veery performs a similar trill that is done in perfect harmony and to appreciate these songs you need to live around, or visit, large natural woodlots. You can also do an internet search but make sure you listen to them, especially the Veery, in slow sound.
Michigan is on the southern edge of their summer breeding range, and the Wood Thrush migrates south for the winter, surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, including Cuba and surrounding islands and as far south as Belize. The Wood Thrush population has been declining for several years, mainly due to habitat loss and fragmentation in both its breeding and wintering grounds. It is considered “near threatened,” and it would be a shame if they are moved to the “threatened” category.
If you wish to learn more about birds, you are welcome to attend Blue Water Audubon meetings held at The Point, 5085 Lakeshore Rd, in Fort Gratiot. Please visit our Facebook page, “Blue Water Audubon Society,” for meeting details and be sure to friend us.
Tom Dennis is a free-lance writer, passionate birder, zoologist, creation scientist, and naturalist. Leave a comment or question for him below.