Lifestyles

Thrushes brighten backyards with their flashes of winter orange

The beautiful Varied Thrush migrates from high elevations to lower ground in winter. - Photo by Brian Kyle
The beautiful Varied Thrush migrates from high elevations to lower ground in winter.
— image credit: Photo by Brian Kyle

Along the Pacific coast, many American Robins overwinter – provided wild berries remain in abundance – their brick orange pot-bellies always a welcome sight.

Our lovely robins, it seems, will often be joined by another Turdidae family member when, just prior to the onslaught of wicked weather, delighted birdwatchers experience an orange invasion of varied thrush.

This robin-size winter visitor so resembles its thrush cousin to often be mistaken for the same. Winter’s first blast brings flocks of these big, bright songbirds down from high forests into urban environments in search of garden fruits and suet.

Elegant, in burnt-orange and slate gray, the primary identifiers include a bold black breast-band and orange eye stripe. Come springtime, most of these beauties move back up to the treeline in an altitudinal migration pattern.

Varied thrushes – in some winters – can even outnumber American robins two-to-one. Local Christmas Bird Count sightings show wildly fluctuating numbers: from lows of around 10 some years, to highs of over 400. During this year’s CBC (held Jan. 44), Luisa Richardson reports that Quadra alone recorded a high number of this secretive thrush – around 100.

The scientific name (Ixoreus naevius) translates as “mountain mistletoe-berry eater.” Little about them is variable, so “varied” seems inappropriate, and the frequent colloquial name “swamp robin” seems more suitable.

Every thrush species is musically gifted, their melodic mating songs bestowing joy in damp, dark woodlands.

A backyard visit by this strikingly handsome bird certainly brightens winter for urban wildlife enthusiasts.

Factoid: A group of thrushes is collectively known as a “hermitage.”

 

Email Christine at: wildernesswest@shaw.ca.

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