BIRD WATCH: Waiting for the varied thrush once again

THIS FIRST COLUMN for 2017 was retrieved from past columns.

This will be the 50th year of the column’s existence and looking back over five decades can be enlightening.

A few days before writing this January’s first article, I was bemoaning the fact that varied thrush hadn’t been seen in our yard yet.

I was hopeful some January snowfall in 2017 would change that. Then, when searching for a column from the past, I found the following from 2008:

“One of the most beautiful birds in the Northwest is the varied thrush.

“Every fall, as the days grow colder and the nights longer, I wonder when or if they will visit our yard.

“Mature forests are this bird’s preferred habitat.

“When snow doesn’t cover the ground and drive them to the lower elevations, they will stay in the hills and forests all year.

“Those of us living in the more lightly forested lowlands must hope for snow to send them into our yards.

“We’re getting enough snow this winter. Some areas would say they’ve had more than enough.

“However, many of us who live close to the water where the snow never seems to stick, aren’t having that problem.

“So, why aren’t we seeing more varied thrush this winter?

“We have had two show up for a day or two.

“Now that we have the manmade waterfall and stream in the backyard, where there is a good stand of conifers, the thrush are even harder to see and enjoy.

“You have to look for them under the huckleberry and the cedar.

“As long as we scatter some seed in that part of the yard, they’re happy.

“They aren’t interested in coming to the feeders we enjoy watching right outside the kitchen window.

“A recent e-mail about a wintering Bullock’s oriole had a lot of us getting excited last month.

“The bird turned out to be a varied thrush. It isn’t the first time this identification glitch has occurred.

“While this oriole does migrate into our area in late spring, they are rare in the winter. Just the same, you can always hope for something like that to happen.

“Over the years, more than one person has talked about the oriole in their yard. Sometimes they have been correct.

“Most of the time, it’s a varied thrush creating all of the excitement. Even towhees have shared in this mistaken identity situation.

“If you live at some of our higher elevations and have a mature forest in the area, you might hear and see these birds well into early summer.

“Then they will still be around, but they will be quiet.

“They are always on the shy or secretive side but in the spring they will be doing more vocalizing.

“On a sunny day in late winter, their mournful, one-note whistle tells you they are in the area.

“Unlike its close cousin, the American robin, this thrush will come to bird feeders filled with mixed bird seed.

“Scatter it on the ground under the bushes and they are even happier. This arrangement lets them hop out of sight quickly but still enjoy scratching up easy winter food.

“The varied thrush, the American robin and the rufous-sided towhee are three birds that share a soft spot in my heart.

“They were the first birds this column focused on.

“The reason was some similarities in their coloring. All three wear a lot of orange in their plumage.

“Sometimes that can be confusing, especially when you are just getting started in birdwatching.

“Winter is seriously upon us and more snow may be in our future. Let’s hope it encourages the varied thrush to visit more often.”

And that’s as true today as it was nine years ago. Happy New Year.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email:

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