My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Wood Thrush, Hylocichla mustelina

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Wood Thrush, Hylocichla mustelina

The Wood Thrush is a North American passerine bird. It is closely related to other thrushes such as the American Robin and is widely distributed across North America, wintering in Central America and southern Mexico. The Wood Thrush is the official bird of the District of Columbia.

The Wood Thrush is a medium-sized thrush, with brown upper parts with mottled brown and white underparts. The male and female are similar in appearance. The song of the male is often cited as one of the most beautiful in North America.

The Wood Thrush is an omnivore, and feeds preferentially on soil invertebrates and larvae, but will also eat fruits. In the summer, it feeds on insects continuously in order to meet daily metabolic needs. It is solitary, but sometimes form mixed-species flocks. The Wood Thrush defends a territory that ranges in size from 800 to 28,000 square meters. The Wood Thrush is monogamous, and its breeding season begins in the spring; about 50% of all mated pairs are able to raise two broods, ranging in size from 2 to 4 chicks.

The adult Wood Thrush is 18 to 21.5 cm (7.1 to 8.5 in) long, with a wingspan of 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 in) and a body mass of 48 to 72 g (1.7 to 2.5 oz). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 9.6 to 11.6 cm (3.8 to 4.6 in), the bill is 1.6 to 2 cm (0.63 to 0.79 in) and the tarsus is 2.8 to 3.3 cm (1.1 to 1.3 in). The crown, nape, and upper back are cinnamon-brown, while the back wings, and tail are a slightly duller brown. The breast and belly are white with large dark brown spots on the breast, sides, and flanks. It has white eye rings and pink legs.

The Wood Thrush has been reported to have one of the most beautiful songs of North American birds. American naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote:

“Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her spring; wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of Heaven are not shut against him.”

While the female is not known to sing, the male has a unique song that has three parts. The first subsong component is often inaudible unless the listener is close, and consists of two to six short, low-pitched notes such as bup, bup, bup. The middle part is a loud phrase often written ee-oh-lay, and the third part is a ventriloquial, trill-like phrase of non-harmonic pairs of notes given rapidly and simultaneously.

The male is able to sing two notes at once, which gives its song an ethereal, flute-like quality. Each individual bird has its own repertoire based on combinations of variations of the three parts. Songs are often repeated in order. The bup, bup, bup phrase is also sometimes used as a call, which is louder and at a greater frequency when the bird is agitated.

The Wood Thrush’s breeding range extends from Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia in southern Canada to northern Florida and from the Atlantic coast to the Missouri River and the eastern Great Plains. It migrates to southern Mexico through to Panama in Central America in the winter, mostly in the lowlands along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. It generally arrives on the U.S. Gulf Coast during the first week of April. Fall migration usually begins in mid-August and continues through mid-September. Migration takes place at night, allowing them to find their direction from the stars and orient themselves by detecting the Earth’s magnetic field.

The Wood Thrush prefers deciduous and mixed forests for breeding. It prefers late-successional, upland mesic forests with a moderately-dense shrub layer. Robert I. Bertin (1977) found that this thrush favors areas with running water, moist ground, and high understorey cover. The breeding habitat generally includes trees taller than 16 m (52 ft), a fairly open forest floor, moist soil, and leaf litter, with substrate moisture more important than either canopy cover or access to running water.

Soil invertebrates and larvae make up most of the Wood Thrush’s omnivorous diet, but it will also eat fruits in the late summer, fall, and late winter. It occasionally feeds on arboreal insects, snails, and small salamanders. The young are fed insects and some fruit. After breeding and before migration, the Wood Thrush will switch from insects to fruits with high lipid levels. In the summer, low fruit consumption and lipid reserves require the bird to feed on insects continuously in order to meet its metabolic needs.

The Wood Thrush forages mainly on the forest floor, flipping leaves over with their bills to reveal insects. It can be observed hopping around in leaf litter and on semi-bare ground under the forest canopy. Fruits are swallowed whole.

On to my photos:

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

This is number 108 in my photo life list, only 242 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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4 responses

  1. I like the shots that show his breast feathers.

    June 27, 2013 at 7:38 pm

  2. I did not know that the Robin is in the thrush family! I love the song of the wood thrush, and the hermit thrush. The most beautiful music in the woods, in my opinion.

    June 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    • Thanks, I have to say that the song of the wood thrush is beautiful, but I still love listening to the catbirds, especially while I’m fishing, they seem to go hand in hand to me.

      June 29, 2013 at 2:11 am

      • I love how we connect certain sounds or smells to memories. For you, catbirds and fishing, for me it’s hermit thrushes and hiking. 🙂

        June 29, 2013 at 8:01 am