Swainson’s Thrush

On Monday I went back to Hurdman to see if the Carolina Wren was still around. I went to the same spot in the woods and started pishing, and, similar to my experience on Friday, at least a dozen American Robins, a Red-eyed Vireo, and a couple of Gray Catbirds emerged from the thickets and the treetops to see what the fuss was about. The wren didn’t respond, so it has likely moved on (or has moved into another area of the park). However, its absence was more than compensated for by the appearance of a curious Swainson’s Thrush that flew onto a tree branch above my head and spent a couple of minutes peering down at me.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

The Swainson’s Thrush is distinguished from the other spotted thrushes by its buffy eyering and spectacles, buffy face, and grayish-brown upper-parts. It is the only woodland thrush whose song goes up in pitch.

The Swainson’s Thrush, like other thrushes, is omnivorous, feeding mainly on insects during spring and summer and fruits in the fall and winter. Beetles, caterpillars, and ants are the primary insects eaten by this species; in fact, few temperate songbirds exploit ants as a chief source of food as successfully as the Swainson’s Thrush. On its wintering grounds in the tropics, it follows army-ant swarms the same way that many of the resident tropical species do. Although the Swainson’s Thrush forages mainly on or near the ground, it spends more time foraging above the ground than other thrushes. In addition, it not only pecks and gleans insects the way most thrushes do, but uses a variety of foraging techniques such as aerial-lunging, hovering, and flycatching. In the fall, I’ve often seen them with flocks of robins eating berries growing 10 or more feet above the ground. There are lots of wild grapes at Hurdman, and robins usually feast on these before feeding on the Buckthorn berries that are also prolific. Perhaps this thrush was dining on the grapes, or the insects lurking among the trees.

I was thrilled when he stayed long enough for me to take some pictures. This one is my best photo of this species to date:

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

I walked the usual loop around the park, and was also happy to see my first male Black-throated Blue Warbler of the fall. He was foraging in an area all by himself, and was completely unresponsive to my pishing. I watched him flit from tree branch to leaf cluster to tree trunk for a few minutes before he disappeared. The only other notable birds were one Northern Parula and a few Yellow-rumped Warblers.

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