Hermit thrushes visit us during the winter. These thrushes have mainly brown upper parts, a distinctly reddish tail, and white underparts with dark spots on the breast. Their legs are pink and they have a white eye ring. They are 6-9 inches long and the wing span is 9-12 inches.
Since they spend the winter with us, their diet includes insects and berries. The thrush will hop, stand still as though listening, pick up leaf litter or shake grasses with his feet looking for insects. They will forage on the forest floor for beetles, caterpillars, bees, ants, and flies. They prefer native berries to invasive species. Studies have shown that native berries are more nutritious for the birds.
Hermit thrushes won't be at your seed feeders but they will visit a small shallow pond or a bird bath during the winter. Not using pesticides and herbicides around your home will help create a natural environment that will include the small insects that these thrushes as well as other birds will enjoy.
Summers are spent to the east and north of us where they will nest and raise their young. The female spends seven to ten days building a cup nest of grass, leaves and pine needles with mud and lichen on the outside. The cup is then lined with softer materials. Eastern hermit thrushes build their nest on the ground under small conifer trees and shrubs. More to the west, the nests are off the ground in the low branches of trees or bushes. Eggs are light blue and sometimes spotted with brown. Chicks are helpless at birth with just a few tufts of dark brown down. It only takes 10-15 days to be ready to fledge.
They are songbirds! They sing! The male defends his territory with a song that some call the finest sound in nature. It is flute-like and starts with a single note followed by descending and repeating musical phrases. Their ethereal song has inspired many poets - T. S. Eliot, Walt Whitman and Amy Clampitt to name a few. Here is the beginning of "The Hermit Thrush" by Henry Van Dyke inspired by the hermit thrush's song:
O wonderful! How liquid clear
The molten gold of that ethereal tone,
Floating and falling through the wood alone,
A hermit-hymn poured out for God to hear!
Tri County Wildlife Care, a local nonprofit started in 1994, is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of our native wildlife and helping our community live in balance with wildlife. They envision a world where wildlife and people thrive together. For more information call (209) 283-3245, or visit pawspartners.org.