Wild Profile: Meet the wood thrush

Published: June 1, 2021

An adult wood thrush standing on a mossy rock By Agami Photo Agency/Shutterstock

The Dalmatian spotted breast of the wood thrush is hard to miss. So is this bird’s song. In the spring, males call in deep, flute-like phrases—it’s considered one of the most beautiful calls of the avian world. When both males and females are alarmed, on the other hand, the birds produce a staccato, machine gun-like sound. Yikes!

Like other songbirds, the wood thrush can sing two notes at the same time. A human’s voice box sits at the top of the trachea, but birds generate noise from the bottom of the trachea. Songbirds have a specialized, two-sided vocal organ called the syrinx—this allows them to create two unrelated pitches at the same time. Cool, right? Birds with more muscles attached to their voice boxes are more vocal and can produce a larger range of sounds. Songbirds usually have five to nine pairs of muscles attached to their voice boxes. Geese have one set of muscles, while turkey vultures have no muscles. They can barely produce any sound at all.

Wood thrushes spend most of the year in the tropics—they really aren’t built for the cold. They only return to Canada in late May or early June, usually to the same nesting sites. Males arrive first, and females, a few days later. Wood thrushes tend to be secretive—they forage for insects on the ground, keeping cover under low understory vegetation.

Wood thrushes are cute. With their pot bellies, short tails, and big heads, they have the same profile as American robins. If you do spot one, it’ll probably be hopping through the leaf litter, probing for bugs with its beak, digging in the dirt with its feet, or turning over leaves. What’s under here?

Doppelganger alert: wood thrushes are almost impossible to distinguish from their cousins, hermit thrushes. The two birds have the same markings and sound the same. Hermit thrushes are slightly smaller though, with a reddish tail.

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