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.
What 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