7-13-23 How well do you know the Thrushes?

July 13, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

1-23-03 Varied Thrush1-23-03 Varied Thrush

A rare Varied Thrush was seen at our bubbler back on 1/23/03, only for a few minutes. It was gorgeous! This sighting was just the tenth record for Missouri. This bird convinced me to begin documenting birds here with my photography, and I have never looked back. 


1-4-06 Townsend's Solitaire1-4-06 Townsend's Solitaire

Another rare thrush for our area, the Townsend's Solitaire was found on the Meramec campus of St. Louis Community College by my friend, Anne McCormack. She first saw it on December 28, 2005, and it was seen by many observers through February 28, 2006. Yes, it stayed for two months. These rare birds will show up sometimes in late fall and winter, arriving on a strong cold front from the northwest.


Most people, even if they're not really bird enthusiasts, will recognize our Eastern Bluebird and American Robin! They are plentiful this year in our yard, successful in raising their young. This is the first time we've had two broods of Eastern Bluebirds.


These are the thrushes that migrate through our area. The first four are related and are in the same genus, Catharus. They are confusing unless  one learns their specific ID traits and behaviors. Even then, without a photo it can be tricky to identify them! I've certainly made some mistakes with this bunch. One of them is seen mid-September through April, a rare but possible winter resident. The other three are just arriving as it moves north so timing can help with identification.

The fifth bird is a bit bigger and more strongly marked. It also has the most beautiful song of them all! So, let's take a closer look at these birds.


Swainson's Thrush 4-10-17 Documentation submitted-earliest date record in MO is 4-14-1983Swainson's Thrush 4-10-17 Documentation submitted-earliest date record in MO is 4-14-1983

The Swainson's Thrush is the most common Catharus thrush during migration, typically arriving in late April. The second photo is part of my documentation of the earliest record date of April 10, 2017. They frequent a wide variety of woods, including residential areas. Thrushes love the water and prefer having the place to themselves! 


#1 Swainson's Thrush: "Olive-backed thrush", buffy eye-ring, buff cheeks and upper breast. On first spring birds, the eye-ring may be narrow.


5-9-23 Gray-cheeked Thrush5-9-23 Gray-cheeked Thrush

The Gray-cheeked Thrush is an uncommon transient, much less common than the Swainson's Thrush. It is typically not seen until the last week of April in woods and forests, including residential areas. All thrushes eat insects and fruit.


#2 Gray-cheeked Thrush: Dull grayish brown with grayish cheeks and a less conspicuous eye-ring. 


5-8-23 Veeries5-8-23 Veeries 5-9-23 Veey5-9-23 Veey

5-9-23 Veery, brownish5-9-23 Veery, brownish

The Veery is also a thrush. Its song is like its name, a liquid, descending "veer-u, veer-u, veer-u". This is the least common of the thrushes to be seen in our area in the eastern part of Missouri. This year was exceptional in that on a couple days I had three, maybe four Veeries. Usually, I'm lucky to see one. This last photo had me scratching my head and checking the Cornell website to look at more photos. I believe it's a 'brownish' Veery. 

Photos of Veeries


In the Fall, the majority of these birds make an overnight flight of the state. This bird visited our bubbler on 9-25-03. In researching for this post, I now realize how rare it was to see one in the Fall!


#3 Veery: The least spotted of the Catharus thrushes, it has a warm cinnamon brown color to the head and back. The spots are often indistinct. It may have a dull whitish eye-ring. 


​​​​​​ Hermit Thrush 4-29-19Hermit Thrush 4-29-19

The Hermit Thrush is a winter resident some years. It is very like the Gray-cheeked Thrush except for its distinctive rusty red tail. When perched, it has a habit of cocking its tail and slowly lowering it. 


Hermit Thrush auduboni 4-10-16Hermit Thrush auduboni 4-10-16 Hermit Thrush faxoni 4-22-16Hermit Thrush faxoni 4-22-16

There are two groups, differing in plumage and their breeding locations. The Western Mountain Group will nest in trees, whereas the Eastern Group nests on the ground. Usually, the Hermit Thrushes are rare here by late April when the other Catharus thrushes begin to arrive.

#4 Hermit Thrush:  Grayish to warm brown with dark spots on the breast, distinctive rusty tail that it cocks when perched, then slowly lowers. An uncommon transient and uncommon winter resident in south and central Missouri, usually moving north by mid-late April.


5-3-22 Wood Thrush5-3-22 Wood Thrush 5-3-22 Wood Thrush5-3-22 Wood Thrush

#5 Wood Thrush: It has an ethereal, flute-like song that echoes through the woods. This bird is smaller than a robin, and a bit larger than the Catharus thrushes with a rusty head and rusty brown color to its back and wings with dark, rounded spots on the breast. It is a summer breeding resident in mature, relatively continuous woodland and forest areas in Missouri, most common in the eastern Ozarks. It is on the Watch List, and I feel so fortunate whenever I see one.


Provide native habitat and support our beautiful thrushes!






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