Temperatures dropped to 6° yesterday morning and we woke to about five inches of snow on the ground. As the sky began to turn gray I noticed an unusual bird in the cottonwood trees outside my study window. I thought it might be a hermit thrush. And then it was gone. Later in the morning Leonard called me outside to see the thrush in the cottonwoods. Yes!! Indeed – there was a hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus). It has been many years since a hermit thrush came near the house (Lookout CA). Although hermit thrushes live in a variety of habitats, I think the snow and cold weather drove this songbird away from the forests it usually inhabits. This thrush was picking around in the tree bark and foraging through the snow at the base of the trees.
Five brown thrushes in the genus Catharus can be found in North America. All the catharus thrushes look alike and are difficult to separate because of their similar plumage patterns and behavior. A couple of field clues identify this as a hermit thrush. Most importantly, the hermit thrush is the only brown thrush found in the United States in the winter (November through March). The hermit thrush has a habit of lifting its tail, as can be observed in the one picture and the tail is a reddish color. This thrush has a thin, pale eye ring , brown upper body and white breast with dark smudgy spots.
In the spring and summer hermit thrushes eat mostly insects and occasionally will take small reptiles and amphibians. Fruits and berries are added to their diet in the fall and winter. Typically hermit thrushes hop and scrape in the leaf litter of the forest floor searching for insects. They will also shake the grass with their legs to locate insects.
What a delight to have this unexpected visitor!