Guest Article: Keeping an Ear out For Thrushes

The Hermit Thrush, VT's state bird 
Outdoor Observer
-by Rebecca Roy

(this article recently appeared in our May Newsletter)

While Park Managers are working hard to get ready for summer in Vermont, many birds are working hard to make homes for their babies.  Migratory birds have been returning to Vermont over the last couple months and they are singing beautiful songs throughout the forests and fields.  One group of migratory birds you can see and hear in many Vermont State Parks are the Thrushes.

Thrushes are medium sized birds that are well known for their beautiful songs. One common thrush is the American Robin, easy to recognize because of their big red bellies.  Robins are building nests in trees (and maybe even in leantos) across Vermont right now.  The female robin builds a nest from the inside out—starting with dead grass and twigs woven into a cup shape.  She then reinforces the nest with soft mud and lines the inside with soft grass.  You can see robins hunting for worms in grassy areas of many parks including Button Bay and Wilgus State Parks. 

Many thrushes sing unique songs because they can sing more than one note at a time.  Perhaps you have been camping near the brook at Jamaica or Stillwater State Parks and heard an ethereal song of notes spiraling downward.  This song, sounding sort of like “veer-y, veer-y, veer-y” in downward notes is from the Veery—a thrush that lives near stream areas.  This brown bird, about the size of a Robin, is not flashy to look at but the song it produces is incredible to hear.  Right now Veeries are building cup nests of dead leaves, bark bits, and small roots at the base of a tree near running water. 

The most beloved thrush in Vermont is the Hermit Thrush.  Although it was heavily debated by the 1941 Vermont legislature, the Hermit Thrush was designated as the Vermont State Bird effective June 1, 1941.  The main debate centered on the migratory nature of the Hermit Thrush.  Legislators questioned whether a state should recognize a bird that spends summers in Vermont and winters in the southern United States. Whether you agree with this designation or not, you must admit that hearing these birds in the Vermont woods is a real treat.

Hermit Thrushes are brown forest birds about the size of Robins with brown spots on their bellies.  Just like the Veery, the Hermit Thrush can sing more than one note at a time.  You can hear the haunting Hermit Thrush song in the morning and the evening in most Vermont woodlands.  The song starts with a long single note, and then spirals upward.  Listen for it while you eat dinner or breakfast on your next trip to any Vermont State Park, including Maidstone, Molly Stark and Woodford State Parks.  Hermit Thrush nests are similar to veery nests, made of small twigs and roots and set on the ground at the base of trees. All three of these thrushes have light blue eggs, although Veery eggs are sometimes spotted.  Watch carefully for these nests during your next walk in the woods. 

Just like migratory birds, we all want to return to our summer migratory spot—Vermont State Parks.  During your next visit, take a moment to stop and listen in the forest and you will not be disappointed in the symphony you hear.  

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