Return of Bird of the Week: Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush, Juneau, Alaska

Another spot-breasted thrush, the Hermit Thrush has WC’s very favorite summer song of all the Alaska passerines. Andrew Spencer recorded this lovely song on Kodiak Island:

Mrs. WC used to wake WC up in the middle of the night to listen to the first of the year Hermit Thrush song in our yard. It was absolutely worth it.

The Hermit Thrush has a complete eye ring, colored white to buff, a rufous tail and flank, and spots that go all the way down the belly. There are 12-13 subspecies, whose coloration varies a bit, but those four field marks are pretty reliable in adults. There’s a good behavioral cue, too: the Hermit Thrush will repeatedly flick its tail up quickly and then slowly lower it, which is distinctive among the Catharus thrushes.

Hermit Thrush, High Island, Texas

At various times of the year, Hermit Thrushes can be found almost anywhere south of tree line in North America. WC has seen the species on the Seward Peninsula in Alaska, on Kodiak Island, in Southern California, and in Texas, Mexico and Florida. It breeds in Canada, Alaska, parts of the Intermountain West and in parts of the northern states. The best predictor for breeding territory is the presence of evergreen forests.

The Hermit Thrush is one of the earliest-arriving passerines. The males arrive first, establishing a territory. The female builds the nest; interestingly, eastern populations use mud in the nest construction while western populations do not. There are usually three to six eggs, which the female incubates for 11 to 13 days. Both parents feed the hatchlings, which leave the nest after about 12 days. There’s no data on post-fledging parental feeding. Double clutching (raising two broods in one summer) is common.

Hermit Thrush, Fairbanks, Alaska

Hermit Thrush populations are the only forest thrush species to show growth in overall numbers in North America over the last 40 years. Total numbers have shown a 75% increase since the 1980s, equating to a 15% increase per decade. There are very, very few native North American bird species that can make such a claim. IUCN rates this as a species of Least Concern.

For more bird photographs, please visit WC’s bird photo site, Frozen Feather Images