There is a special call from nature in winter in the lowland hills around the Snoqualmie Valley that is one of the top five favorite sounds of nature to me. I love the Pacific tree-frogs calling in spring; I love the sound of Pileated woodpeckers. But the winter arrival call of the Varied Thrush is just so special, I can’t ignore it!
The Varied Thrush can best be described as being close to looking like the size of an American Robin. However it is smaller and much more striking in appearance. They display a lovely bright orange wing bar, an amazing orange throat area, black bar along the head by the eyes, and a bright orange under-part belly. The female birds are still brilliant but the orange is more subdued. A breeder of the Pacific Northwest and areas northward toward Alaska, it really is a mystery bird to many, one that lives out its life in the dark deep coniferous forests. But winter in the Cascades brings it to the lowland forest fringes and here we find it in our own yard like many forested foothill communities!
What makes it so easy to locate sightings of them in winter here is that they are ground foragers primarily, so if you feed birds in your yard or on your property, they are very likely to find the area on the ground around feeding stations as winter territory to claim. The males do tend to dominate many other bird feeder species and claim small territories around feeding areas, so if you have multiple thrushes around it can be quite a show! Along with the seeds they find, they also feed heavily on any types of ground insects that can be found. Summertime in the mountains they are up high in the trees nesting and it can be far more difficult to spot them. Oh, but for that special voice they have, it is a dead give-away of their presence! It can best be described as a strong single note/pitch of a “whistle” call – almost to me sounding like a referee at a basketball game, starting weak and getting strong quickly! This is what makes these birds one of my favorite winter creatures to have as a natural neighbor, and I encourage you to find a voice call recording on the internet to enjoy if you don’t know what I mean (http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/200/_/Varied_Thrush.aspx is one of many). Ahh…can you hear it? I hope you see these around the fringes of the Valley, and that you keep me posted on what you are seeing (or hearing) out there!