The Hermit Thrush is one of Indiana’s finest thrushes. It’s beautiful, ethereal, and mystical song is rarely heard in Indiana. Yet, anyone who happens into the Northwoods, where the bird thrives in the summer time, will have a chance to hear his flute like tunes. One should visit the Hermit Thrush in its breeding woods to truly know the bird at its best.
If you locate one early in the spring or late in the fall migration season, you’ll notice the reddish-brown wings and tail that are the hallmark of this thrush. This reddish brown contrasts with a gray/brown back and head. The spots on the Hermit Thrush are distinct and black, and more concentrated than other thrushes.
Arriving early, sometimes as soon as late March, the Hermit Thrush arrives well before any of our other spotted thrushes. By mid-April they’re easy to spot flushing from alongside the trail of your nearby park, but becoming hard to spot suddenly as they freeze on a log or branch, with their body perfectly blending into the landscape. By late fall, it’s one of the last thrushes to move through. When fall colors are hitting their peak, the thrushes are back from the Northwoods and heading towards their wintering grounds in the southern United States. More so than other thrushes, the Hermit Thrush will occasionally winter as far north as southern Canada. A few are found each winter in Indiana. Perhaps the state’s most astonishing Hermit Thrush report occurred just outside Dunes State Park on July 11, 1993 when birders from Illinois heard one singing from a nearby pine stand. This occurrence is Indiana’s only summer record.
John Burroughs has beautifully expressed the inspiration, the elevating character of the emotions with which the hermit’s song infuses us when he wrote the following lines in Wake Robin, “Mounting toward the upland again, I pause reverently as the hush and stillness of twilight come upon the woods. It is the sweetest, ripest hour of the day. And as the hermit’s evening hymn goes up from the deep solitude below me, I experience that serene exaltation of sentiment of which music, literature, and religion are but the faint types and symbols.”
Hoosier birders should take the time to study and appreciate the different thrushes we get to enjoy each year. On the rare day in May you just might get to see all of the spotted thrushes in one day. The royal thrush!
Photo by Jeff Timmons