A Wood Thrush Sang In Forest Square

Through most of late June and early July, it was impossible to live anywhere near the town woods and not hear the eerie call of the wood thrush.  They seemed to be everywhere.  For a while, believing they were rarer than they are, I thought it might be just one or two who got around a lot.  But I heard them so regularly and in such scattered places — Cedar Street, Forest Street, the Retreat trails — that I decided there must be more than a few.  

I’ve heard this song in our woods for years but only very occasionally.  Not until this summer have I been treated to a concert of such full-throated glory.    On one early summer morning, in a lull between downpours, I heard one singing so loudly and clearly that I knew that he must be right by the house. Needless to say, I never saw him, but as soon as he heralded me with his first trill, I raced inside to get my one-click audio recorder. If you click the link below, you can hear what I heard.


Wood ThrushWhat gives the song of the wood thrush its strange resonance is the bird’s double voice box, which enables it to articulate two separate, perhaps even different pitches at the same time. They are the bird equivalent of the Throat Singers of Tuvalu — listening to them sing is like hearing a message from another realm.

Physically, the wood thrush is not terribly distinctive with brown back and speckled breast that help it blend into the forest floor where it likes to forage for food. But when it bursts into song, usually from some treetop well out of sight, this nothing little bird takes center stage. Other birds may sing along but they know they have no chance. The song of the thrush rises over all.

The best known member of the thrush family is the robin, a brave and cheerful bird as exemplified by its rambunctious “cheer-up cheerilee” call.  If you have a robin nearby, it’s hard not to know it.  Another relative is the hermit thrush, which has a similar call to the wood thrush and is the state bird of Vermont.  Listen for them around sunrise or in the gloaming at the end of the day.  If you’re lucky, you’ll hear their ghostly voices floating out to greet you from a nearby woodland grove.


Song File: https://archive.org/details/Thrush

Image attribution: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Item ID WO-4548-17

Comments | 8

  • Hermit and Swainson's

    I’ve finally learned to distinguish Wood Thrushes and Hermit Thrushes. I think. I have a Wood Thrush every year in my back yard in Vernon. If you hike up Wantastiquet, you might hear a Wood Thrush at the lower levels, but there are several Hermits who live closer to the top, still singing every day. I recently encountered for the first time a Swainson’s Thrush, at the higher levels of the mountains at Franconia Notch. Swainson’s has an even longer, louder trill at the end of each call. Swainsons used to breed on Monadnock, but not any more.

  • Sunrise Trail at Fort Dummer

    I heard some of these thrushes in early June on the Sunrise Trail at Ft. Dummer State Park.


    I’m not sue if they can still be heard in the late autumn or early spring, but the view at the end of the Sunrise Trail is much better when the foliage isn’t quite as full.

  • Wood Hermits

    Thanks, Lise.

    When I was growing up wood and hermit thrushes seemed to be much rarer than they are today. I remember being taught that they were deep forest birds, and as their habitat was fragmented through development they would decline in population. Then a few years ago, much to my surprise, a hermit thrush took up residence here on Washington Street and has been enchanting us ever since. It lives in that steep embankment that leads down to Canal Street which is forested, but far, far from what anyone would imagine as deep forest. My guess is that these species are adapting to life nearer to humans in order to survive, like raccoons and many other ‘opportunistic’ species. It gives me a glimmer of hope.

    For those who would like to hear the hermit thrush call:

    In fact, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a great source to hear all sorts of bird calls.

  • Thrush Love

    You describe the thrush song well, Lise. I like the Tuvan throat singing comparison.

    We’ve had a thrush (wood, I think) in our backwoods every summer and I listen for it anxiously and enjoy it so much while it’s singing. I also like the cathedral effect the song gets in the woods – and you captured it well in your recording.

    To me their song sounds like 3 or 4 sung notes followed by something indescribable – it’s like a collision of notes. It’s a remarkable sound.

    Another thrush family bird I enjoy is the veery.
    They’re sometimes in the woods on the other side of the street from the thrush. It’s another tuvan sounding song, but this one descends in tight spirals. I always think of the sound as going around and down a small metal tube.
    During the hot, hot weather last week they were singing up a storm in the hottest parts of the day near where I was working in Guilford.

    Here’s a link to the Cornell site about veerys with some sound you can listen to. They’re from 3 different sites in the northeast and each is different sounding too. None sound quite like what I hear around here.

  • Thanks

    Very nice. Thank you all.

    • Hermit Thrush

      The Hermit Thrush is our state bird, seems very shy when in human presence, elusive and seldom seen such as compared to the Gregarious, chatty and curious Cat bird (social skills are 8 here among birds and humans would be 10 if they didn’t carry on so)) or other mainstays and regulars at our year round feeders at Mod Haven who have grown accustomed those of us observing close by, thus the characterization “Hermit” Thrush. They seem to be the ones with red eyed virios ( like those whirling, carnival crescendo noise makers) who sign off with their distinctive call signifying the ending of the day at dusk from way up high in the tree tops and who could do it better? The Thrush seems to have the most brilliant ( if browns could be brilliant) overall brown (moca) coloring I’ve ever spotted on a bird if you can catch sight long enough of one, usually one at a time busily darting away just out of focus.

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