During early evening or morning hours in June and July, Cascade east slope forests echo with the lovely and haunting flutings of the hermit thrush, ascribed by some as one of the finest North American birdsongs.
Many a camper has enjoyed this singer’s beautiful tune. Seeing this shy songster, however, can take some work because it often hides in the dense branches. Since it eats mainly insects, most migrate south to snow-free regions (Oregon to northern Mexico).
A few, however, choose to tough out Yakima winters, subsisting on fruits such as Russian olive berries and those of the introduced Virginia creeper.
How to spot one: There are three species of brown thrushes with spotted breasts in our area (Swainson’s, veery, and hermit) and all are adept at keeping out of sight in dense vegetation. Once you get a glimpse of this species, though, its identity is clinched if it raises, then slowly lowers its tail, a behavior not shared by the others.
Its tail is also reddish, which contrasts with its brown back. This species spends much of its time on the ground, but sings mostly from trees. Once you learn its ethereal song, you’ll note this is a common species in mountain forests. It has a distinctive call note, too, a harsh “reah.”
If you’re sighting a thrush from October through April, it is certainly a hermit because the other species are in tropical climes during these months.
When and where to look: Mid-elevation Cascade forests are favored in the breeding season, higher in elevation than the dry, open ponderosa pine forests. Halfway up Bethel Ridge where the photo was taken is an excellent site. So are White and Chinook Passes.
In migration, it may be met anywhere in thickets at lower elevations. The Russian olive groves on the South Greenway host a small number in winter.
Chow time: Small insects and some fruits. Insects of many types make up the bulk of their diet during the spring and summer months. Fruits such as small berries and Virginia creeper are important in winter when bugs are scarce or absent.
Home life: The male establishes the territory by singing, especially in the morning and evening. The female makes the nest in a tree (in the west, on the ground in the east and far north) and is an open cup of moss, twigs, fibers, roots, bark fibers, and weeds, lined with hair and feathers.
The usual clutch of eggs is four and these are incubated by the female for about 12 days. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest after only 11-13 days. There may be two clutches, exceptionally three in the south.