Occupying a wide variety of forested habitats across North America, the Hermit Thrush manages not to call undue attention to its presence. Living quietly in the undergrowth, the Hermit Thrush both breeds and winters in large parts of the continent, though it occurs as a year-round resident in only limited areas and therefore can be found for only about half the year in most places.
At least eight subspecies of Hermit Thrush are known, and they are variable in plumage and in size. One common feature is the habit of raising its tail quickly and then slowly lowering it. The reddish tail contrasting with the brownish upperparts make this habit even more noticeable.
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Description of the Hermit Thrush
The Hermit Thrush is a slightly stocky thrush, with upperparts varying geographically from grayish to reddish brown. The breast is whitish and boldly spotted, and the tail is always reddish, more so than the upperparts. Length: 7 in. Wingspan: 11 in.
Seasonal change in appearance
Juveniles have spotted upperparts as well as spotted breasts.
Hermit Thrushes breed in coniferous or mixed coniferous-deciduous forest, but are found in a wide variety of woodlands and parks during winter.
Hermit Thrushes primarily eat insects and berries.
Hermit Thrushes forage both on the ground and in trees or shrubs. They habitually flick their wings and tail.
Hermit Thrushes breed across much of Canada and the western and northeastern U.S., and winter across the southern and southeastern U.S. The population has increased in recent decades.
The Hermit Thrush is more cold tolerant than other Catharus thrushes, and it is the only species to regularly winter in large parts of the U.S.
Hermit Thrushes can be very inconspicuous in winter, but a patient birder might locate one by finding berry trees in the woods.
The song is a series of high, flutelike notes. A common call is a quiet “chup”.
Related thrushes tend to have more buffy color in the face and upper breast, and lack the prominently reddish tail.
The Gray-cheeked Thrush has broken eye ring, lacks reddish tail.
Swainson’s Thrush has buffy eye ring, lacks red tail.
The nest is a cup of moss, bark strips, and twigs, and is often placed on the ground in eastern or northern parts of the range, and in a coniferous tree in the west.
Number: Usually lay 4 eggs.
Color: Pale blue or greenish-blue with a few darker markings.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 12 days, and leave the nest in another 12 days, though continuing to associate with the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the Hermit Thrush
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Hermit Thrush – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
HYLOCICHIA GUTTATA GUTTATA (Pallas)
This, the type race of the species and the first of the several races to be named, is the form that breeds from the Mount McKinley region m Alaska south to Cross Sound, Kodiak Island, and northern British Columbia. It migrates south in winter to Cape San Lucas and northern Mexico.
All the western subspecies of the hermit thrush have the sides and flanks grayish or olivaceous, rather than brown or huffy brown; the bill is relatively smaller or more slender, the tail relatively longer, and the feet relatively smaller than in the eastern subspecies. The Alaska hermit thrush is one of the two smaller races, and its coloration is lighter than the other even smaller race, the dwarf hermit thrush.
Spring: In his notes made at Lake Crescent, western Washington, for April 25 to 30, 1916, 5. F. Rathbun (MS.) thus describes the behavior of the Alaska hermit thrush on its migration: “Each morning at daybreak I hear the songs of several hermit thrushes, coming from the thick fringe of shrubs and young growth along and near the shore of the lake. This song is most delightful and continues for the space of about an hour, with but little intermission; after that it is seldom heard, and through the day not at all; but near sunset the birds sing again for a short time, and the effect of this beautiful song, heard in the waning light of day, is most pleasing.
“These birds are of a retiring nature; they haunt the rather more open forest, or its edges where there maybe open spots, but they always seem to remain in close proximity to the forest. In such a locality one morning I had an opportunity to watch one of the hermits for some time; it is a very quiet bird, and when in repose it is perfectly motionless; from time to time it would rapidly move a short distance, looking for its food on the surface or under some of the leaves with which the ground was covered; but it was not continually in motion, and there were frequent intervals of complete repose, though should a winged insect chance to fly past, which happened several times, the bird sprang into the air quicker than a flash and was generally successful in catching it; after that its former motionless position was resumed. During my observation, which lasted for some time, the bird uttered no note and, as I remained perfectly quiet, it came at times within a few feet of where I was.
“By the first of May all the birds seemed to have passed by, and their songs were no longer heard.”
Nesting: The nesting habits of the Alaska hermit thrush seem to vary somewhat in different portions of its range, and for no apparent reason.
In the Stikine River region, in northern British Columbia, Harry S. Swarth (1922) found this thrush in the spruce woods on the mountains at about 3,000 feet altitude. He collected two nests with eggs; the first nest was taken on May 26, with a set of five eggs. “It was in the creek bottom, about two miles north of the town of Telegraph Creek, some three feet from the ground, in a spruce sapling. The nest rested against the trunk and upon some small branches. The outer structure is of twigs, weed stems, rootlets and bark strips; the lining is of fine rootlets and grass, with a good many of the long overhairs of a porcupine. It measures as follows: greatest outside diameter about 160 mm.; outside depth, 90; inside diameter, 60; inside depth, 40 mm.”
The second nest was taken on June 4, with four slightly incubated eggs; it was in similar surroundings and was very much like the first one in structure, even to the porcupine hairs in the lining, but this one was “placed between two small spruce trees, thirty inches from the ground. * * * Both were in situations where there was little concealing vegetation, and were easily seen from some distance.”
A short distance farther north, in the Atlin region, Mr. Swarth (1926) found three nests: “One, June 13, with three fresh eggs; one June 23, with four fresh eggs; and one July12, with four fresh eggs. All were on the ground, the first in a clump of small willows at the edge of a muskeg, the second in an opening in mixed poplar and spruce woods, and the third in rather dense poplar woods.”
Eggs: The Alaska hermit thrush lays three to five eggs, probably usually four. These are practically indistinguishable from those of the dwarf hermit thrush and differ from those of the other hermit thrushes only in size~ The measurement.s of 18 eggs average 21.9 by 16.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 23.3 by 16.7, 22.4 by 16.8, 20.8 by 15.8 millimeters.
Food: The food of all the western races of the hermit thrush may as well be considered here, as several of the forms live or spend the winter in California, and as Professor Beal’s (1907) study of the stomach contents of 68 hermit thrushes, taken in California, does not separate the food of the different subspecies. The food of all the races is much the same under similar conditions. Beal’s analysis shows the food to consist of 56 percent animal and 44 percent vegetable matter. Of the animal food, Hymenoptera, mostly ants, constitute the largest item, 24 percent; caterpillars come next, 10 percent; beetles, all harmful species and more than two-thirds weevils, form 11 percent of the food; other insects, spiders, and miscellaneous items amount to 12 percent. One stomach contained the bones of a salamander. Beal writes:
The vegetable food is made up of two principal components: fruit and seeds. The former amounts to 29 percent of the whole, and is composed of wild species, or of old fruit left on trees and vines. A few stomachs contained seeds of raspberries, which, of course, must have been old, dried-up fruit. Seeds of the pepper tree and mistletoe were the most abundant and, with some unidentifiable pulp and skins, make up the complement of fruit. * * * Seeds of all kinds amount to 14 percent of the food, but only a few are usually reckoned as weed seeds. The most abundant seed was poison oak (ft/ins diversiloba), which was found in a number of stomachs. While this plant is not usually classed among weeds, it is really a weed of the worst description, since it is out of place no matter where it is. It is unfortunate that the birds in eating the seeds of this plant do not destroy them, but only aid in their dissemination.
Mr. Dawson (1923) watched them feeding in his yard and says:
They tackle the pepper berries, and rather awkwardly at first. it is evidently new business for some of them, and they make hard work of it. One bird that I particularly observed would fly up to a bunch, hover a moment in midair, snatch a berry, and return to a more secure position. This he did repeatedly, without once endeavoring to alight on the berry cyme itself, or trying to find a place where he might eat his fill unmolested. Another dashed up and fell to eating the berries as they lay strewn upon the ground. He fed very daintily, taking care in each instance to discard the red husk. * * *
One of our garden faucets drips incessantly and this is the favorite drinking place of the Hermit. A bird will alight on the faucet and, stooping over, will pluck the drops one by one as they fall. One morning I saw five birds at a time either waiting their turn or else making suggestive dives at the fellow who seemed to be tarrying too long at the faucet.
Behavior: Dawson (1923) gives the following good description of a well-known bit of action that is common to all hermit thrushes, and by which they can often be recognized:
Perhaps the most prominent characteristic of the Hermit Thrush, and the one which does most to remove it from the commonplace, is the incessant twinkling of the wings: the action is so rapid and the return to the state of repose so incalculably quick that the general impression or silhouette is not thereby disturbed; but we have an added feellng of mobility of tensity on the part of the bird which gives one the impression of spiritual alertness, a certain high readiness. I tried on a time to count these twinkles, with the compensatory flirt of the tail, as the bird was hopping about on the ground in my rose garden. The movements occurred about once per second, yet oftenest in groups, and so rapidly, that not a twentieth part of the bird’s time seemed so consumed * * *
In one station which the bird occupied, being not over seven feet from me, I could, by closing one eye and focussing the other upon a closely placed background of greenery, note the extreme limit of the wing-motion. The tip, in each instance, travelled at least two inches from the body; yet the return was so instant and the dress so quickly composed that no detail of the readjustment could be traced.
Howard L. Cogawell refers in his notes to the wing-flipping habit, described above, and says that “the hermit’s habit of slowly raising its tail after alighting, so often used in identification in the East, does not always take place in western birds, I have found.”
Fall: Mr. Rathbun’s notes mention the first arrivals of the Alaska hermit thrushes in Clallam County, Wash., on October 10, 1915, when seven were seen along the shore of Crescent Lake near the beach, where the shore was overhung with bushes growing at the edge of the water.
Referring to the Yosemite region in California, Grinnell and Storer (1924) say: “By the latter part of September, birds which have nested in various parts of southern Alaska begin to arrive, to spend the winter here. In the fall the Dwarf and Alaska hermit thrushes, as the two races from the north are called, occur in considerable numbers at all altitudes below 9,000 feet. The arrival of heavy snow forces most of those in the higher zones to below the 4,000 or 3,500 foot contour.”
Winter: Mr. Cogswell (MS.) says of this species: “The hermit thrush is common throughout the winter in coastal southern California, but most common in the shady oak-sycamore association of the canyons of the foothills, in tall, dense growth of climax chaparral (in small canyons), and in the residential sections of many cities wherever there is plenty of brush and hedge cover and a steady water supply. The highest altitude at which I have seen the hermit thrush in midwinter was about 5,000 feet in the upper Santa Ana Canyon, San Bernardino Mountains, on December 28, 1941. This one was calling the usual chuck-chuck note from underneath a canopy of snow-covered chaparral, about 9 A. M., with the temperature at 200 F. Occasional birds are heard singing in soft, detached phrases from mid-March until they leave early in April; but during the rest of their stay in the southern California lowlands, the chuck note and a louder, ringing cheeeeeeeee (slightly rising pitch) are their only notes.”
Range: North America from central Alaska and northern Canada to Guatemala.
Breeding range: The hermit thrush breeds north to central Alaska (Lake Aleknagik, Lake Clark, Mount McKinley, and Chitina Moraine); southern Yukon (Donjek River, Little Salmon River, and Watson Lake); southwestern Mackenzie (mouth of the Nahanni River, Fort Simpson, Fort Providence, Fort Resolution, and Hill Island Lake); central Saskatchewan (Snake Lake and Hudson Bay Junction); southern Manitoba (Lake St. Martin, Portage la Prairie, and Hillside Beach); central Ontario (Minaki on Lake of the Woods, Port Arthur, Lake Abitibi, and Ottawa); southern Quebec (Lake Mistassini, Godbout, and Natashquan); and southern Labrador (Mary Harbor and Chateau Bay). East to southern Labrador (Chateau Bay); Newfoundland (St. Anthony and St. John’s); Nova Scotia (Baddeck, Halifax, and Barrington); New Hampshire (Rye Beach); eastern Massachusetts (Belmont, Roxhury, Cape Cod, and Marthas Vineyard), and Long Island (Yaphank). South to Long Island (Yaphank), northern New Jersey (Beaufort Mountain); northeastern Pennsylvania (Lords Valley and Pocono Mountains) and, in the Appalachians south to western Maryland (Grantsville and Mountain Lake Park) and West Virginia (Cheats Bridge); southern Ontario (Dunnville and Plover Mills); northern Michigan (Douglas Lake, Wequetonsing, and Escanaba); northern Wisconsin (Mamie Lake, Rhinelander, and Lake Owen); central Minnesota (Mule Lacs Lake and Otter Tail County); southern Manitoba (Winnipeg and Margaret); southern Saskatchewan (Indian Head); western Montana (Chief Mountain Lake, Great Falls, and Bear Tooth Mountains); and south along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming (Larainie); Colorado (Estes Park, Manitou, Wet Mountains, and Fort Garland) to southern New Mexico (Clouderoft and Silver City); southeastern and central Arizona (Chiricahua Mountains, Tombstone, Santa Catalina Mountains, and San Francisco Mointain); southern Nevada (Charleston Mountains); and southern California (Providence Mountains, Sen Bernardino Mountains, the Sierra Nevada south to Big Cottonwood Meadows, and the Coast Range to Little Sur River). West in California to the Pacific Ocean (Little Sur River, San Francisco, Gualala River, and Carsons, Humboldt County); to the Cascades in Oregon (Crater Lake, Salem, Beaverton, and Olney); Washington (Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, and Tacoma); British Columbia (Vancouver Island: Nootka Sound and Errington, the Queen Charlotte Islands, Hazelton, and Telegraph Creek); and Alaska (Forrester Island, Sitka, Kodiak Island, Frosty Peak, Alaska Peninsula, and Lake Aleknagik). There is an isolated colony in the Sierra de la Laguna in the Cape district of Lower California.
Winter range: The bermit thrush is found in winter north to Vancouver Island, British Columbia (Comox and Victoria) ; western Washington (Bellingham and Seattle); western Oregon (Portland, Corvallis, and Fort Klamath); eastern California (Grass Valley, Placerville, and Providence Mountains); extreme southern Nevada (opposite Fort Mojave); occasionally to extreme southern Utah (Zion National Park); central Arizona (Fort Verde and Salt River National Wildlife Refuge); southern New Mexico (near Salinas Peak); western Texas (Guadalupe Mountains) and southern and eastern Texas (Sa.n Antonio, Corsicana, and Gainesville); southeastern Oklahoma (Caddo); central Arkansas (Maumelle); southeastern Missouri (Cardwell and Tecumseh, occasionally); southern Kentucky (Bowling Green); southern West Virginia (Bluefiold); Virginia (Lexington and Beulahville); eastern Maryland (Catonsvile); southeastern Pennsylvania (Philadelphia); and central New Jersey (Princeton); occasionally north to Columbus, Ohio; Easton, Pa.; Orient, Long Island; Providence, R. I.; and the vicinity of Boston, Mass. East to central New Jersey (Princeton) and the Atlantic Coast States to southern Florida (Daytona Beach, TitusvilLe, and Royni Palm Park). South to southern Florida (Royal Palm Park); the Gulf coast of the United States; Tamaulipas (Victoria); Mexico (Amecameca); Puebla (Mount Popocatapeti); and Guatemala (Coban, Tecp~Jm, and Volc~n do Fuego). South to Guatemair. West to Guatemala (Volc~n de Fuego and Momostenango); Jalisco (Jonila); Sonora (Alamos); Lower California (Triunfo, San Ram6n, and Todos Santos Islond); California (San Diego, San Clemente Island, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Eureka, and Crescent City); Oregon (Corvaliis); Washington (Port Angeles); and southwestern British Columbia (V~ncouver Island: Vic(oria and Comax).
The above ranges apply to the species as a whole, of which seven subspecies or geographic races are recognized. The Alaska hermit thrush (H. g. guttata) breeds in Alaska south to Cross Sound; the dwarf hermit thrush (H. g. nanus) breeds in the coastal region from Cross Sound, Alaska, south to southern British Columbia; the Monterey hermit thrush (H. g. .slevini) breeds in the coastal belt of California from northern Trinity County to southern Monterey County; the Sierra hermit thrush (I-I. g. sequojensis) breeds in the higher mountains from southern British Columbia to southern California; the Mono hermit thrush (H. g. polion eta) breeds in the White Mountains, Mono and Inyo Counties, Calif., and the Charleston Mountains, Nov.; Audubon’s hermit thrush (H. g. auduboni) breeds from southeastern British Columbia south through eastern Nevada to the mountains of Arizona and to the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico; also in the Sierra de la Laguna, Cape district of Lower California; the eastern hermit thrush (H. g. Jaxoni) breeds from southwestern Mackenzie, central Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and northern Minnesota eastward to the Atlantic Ocean. The winter ranges of the various races overlap.
Migration: Some late dates of spring departure from the winter home are: Guatemala: Teepam, April 17. Mexico, Guerrero: Omilteme, May 14. Texas: Somerset, May 6. Louisiana: New Orleans, May 15. Arkansas: Helena, May 10. Mississippi: Bay St. Louis, May 11. Tennessee: Nashville, April 25. Kentucky: Lexington, May 17. Alabama: Leighton, April 8. Florida: Pensacola, April 23. Georgia: Athens, April 22. South Carolina: Charleston, April 20. North Carolina: Charlotte, May 6. West Virginia: French Creek, May 6. District of Columbia: Washington, May 17. Pennsylvania: Wayne, May 11.
Some early dates of spring arrival are: West Virginia: Parkersburg, April 1. Pennsylvania: Carlisle, March 21. New York: Ballston Spa, March 31. Massachusetts: Amherst, April 9. Maine: Orono, April 16. Quebec: Montreal, April 14. Nova Scotia: Halifax, April 19. New Brunswick: Grand Manan, April 5. Newfoundland: St. Anthony, April 24. Ohio: Oberlin, March 28. Ontario: London, March 30. Indiana: Bloomington, March 31. Michigan: Ann Arbor, March 26. Illinois: Chicago, March 26. Iowa: Keokuk, March 30. Minnesota: Hutchinson, April 13. North Dakota: Fargo, April 1. Manitoba: Winnipeg, April 22. Saskatchewan: Regina, April 23. Colorado: Colorado Springs, April 21. Wyoming: Torrington, April 19. Montana: Great Falls, May 7. Alberta: Glenevis, April 28. Mackenzie: Simpson, May 6. Alaska: Ketchikan, April 16.
Some late dates of fall departure are: Alaska: Wrangell, October 12. Mackenzie: Simpson, September 6. Alberta: Glenevis, October 7. Idaho: Priest River, October 12. Montana: Fortine, September 20. Wyoming: Laraniie, October 30. Colorado: Denver, October 20. Manitoba: Aweme, October 15. North Dakota: Argusville, October 21. Minnesota: Minneapolis, October 28. lowa: Marshailtown, October 24. Wisconsin: Madison, October 24. Illinois: Waukegan, November 4. Michigan: Detroit, November 8. Ontario: Toronto, October 29. Ohio: Cleveland, November 3. Newfoundland: St. Anthony, October 24. New Brunswick: Scotch Lake, November 3. Quebec: Montreal, October 27. New Hampshire: Concord, November 5. Virginia: Lexington, October 15. West Virginia: French Greek, October 5. North Carolina: Raleigh, October 16. South Carolina: Spartanburg, October 10. Alabama: Leighton, October16. Florida: New Smyrna, October 13. Mississippi: Ariel, October 14. Arkansas: Delight, October 14. Texas: Dallas, October 16. Mexico: Chihuahua: Guachochi, September 28. Guerrero: Taxco, October 16. Guatemala: Teepam, November 4.
Banding records: Banded birds have furnished some interesting records of migration and longevity. One banded at Demarest, N. J., on October 9, 1938, was found February 10, 1939 at Valdosta, Ga. One banded at Zion, Ill., on October 10, 1933, was caught about January 22, 1934, at De Queen, Ark.; another banded at the same place on April 30, 1939, was killed January 24, 1940, at Pasadena, Tex. One banded at Blue Island, III., October 1, 1934, was found about December 19, 1934, near Gould, Ark. One banded at Elmhurst, N. Y., October 24, 1935, was caught August 19, 1937, at Lakeport, N. II. One banded at Zion, III., October 4, 1932, was found about March 10, 1934, at Turkey, N. C. A bird banded at Almonesson, N. J., October 27, 1938, was captured November 19, 1938, at Hatley, Ga. This indicates a rate of migration of more than 30 miles a day.
A longevity record is furnished by a bird banded as an adult at Philadelphia, Pa., October 25, 1928, and found dead March 25, 1934, at Avera, Ga.
Casual records: Thrce specimens of the hermit thrush have been collected in Europe: in Germany on December 22, 1825; on the island of Helgoland in the autumn of 1836; and one in Switzerland without date. In June 1845 a specimen was collected at Amaraglik, Godthaab District, Greenland. A specimen of the eastern race, was collected on Southampton Island, October 4, 1929, and one of the Alaska race near Barrow, Alaska, May 25, 1933.
Egg dates: British Columbia: 10 records, May 11 to July 12; 6 records, June 4 to June 23.
California: 65 records, May 13 to July 22; 35 records, June 3 to June 21, indicating the height of the season.
Colorado: 22 records, May 14 to July 11; 12 records, June 12 to June 28.
Maine: 38 records, May 13 to August 15; 20 records, May 29 to June 12.
DWARF HERMIT THRUSH
HYLOCICHLA GUTTATA NANUS (Audubon)
This is the small, dark race of the hermit thrush that breeds in the humid coast belt from Cross Sound, Alaska, southward to southern British Columbia. Ridgway (1907) describes it as “similar to H. g. guttata but coloration darker and browner, the color of the back, etc., more sepia brown, upper tail-coverts more russet, tail more chestnut, and spots on chest larger and darker.”
Grinnell and Wythe (1927) state that the dwarf hermit thrush leaves the San Francisco Bay region in spring about the first of April, a late date being April 21 at Berkeley. And George Willett writes to me that “the species arrives in southeastern Alaska in late April and early May, and leaves mostly in September. It usually nests three weeks to a month earlier than H. ustulaf a.”
Nesting: Mr. Willett (MS.) reports two nests, each containing four eggs. One that he took at Ketchikan, Alaska, on June 8,1924, was located three feet from the ground among the roots of a windfall in the woods; it contained four eggs, advanced in incubation, and was made of moss and lichens, lined with rootlets and leaves; the nest measured 100 by 60 millimeters in outside dimensions, and the inner cavity measured 72 by 37 millimeters.
He collected another nest at Petersburg, Alaska, on July 3, 1936; this nest was placed 3~ feet up in a young hemlock in the woods, and held four eggs, about half incubated; the nest was similar to the other in construction but of different dimensions; it measured 125 by 73 millimeters outside, and 62 by 35 millimeters inside. He remarks: “This latter is a very late nesting date for the region, young being usually hatched by the middle of June and full-grown about July 18.”
S. J. Darcus (1930) mentions two nests found on Langara Island, in the Queen Charlotte group; they contained feathered young on June 10. “Both these nests were built on top of stumps, the one 8 feet from the ground, the other 6 feet.”
Two nests were recorded by the 1907 Alexander Alaska Expedition, according to Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1909). At Idaho Inlet, on July 22, a pair had a nest that contained young nearly ready to fly; “the nest was built in a niche in a perpendicular moss-grown bank about four feet above the bottom.” And on July 7, a nest was found at Glacier Bay that held four fresh eggs. “The nest was situated in a crotch formed by a small limb and the naked body of a ten-inch hemlock and was six and one-half feet above the ground. It was found by seeing the female fly from it, and was seemingly but a stray bunch of moss in which a cavity had been made by the bird.”
Eggs: Four eggs seems to be the usual number laid by the dwarf hermit thrush. These are like the eggs of the other hermit thrushes, usually ovate in shape and plain “Nile blue” in color, without markings. The measurements of 16 eggs average 22.3 by 16.6 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 24.0 by 16.0, 23.9 by 17.3, 20.5 by 17.0, and 24.0 by 15.6 millimeters.
Behavior: W. L. Dawson (Dawson and Bowles, 1909) gives a very good description of the cheracteristic behavior of hermit thrushes in general, which seems worth quoting:
As one passes thru the woods in middle April while the vine maples are still leafless, and the forest floor is not yet fully recovered from the brownness of the rainy season, a moving shape, a little browner still, but scarcely outlined in the uncertain light, starts up from the ground with a low chnck, and pauses for a moment on a mossy log. Before you have made out definite characters, the bird flits to a branch a little higher up and more removed, to stand motionless for a minute or so, or else to chuckle softly with each twinkle of the ready wings. By following quietly one may put the bird to a dozen short flights without once driving it out of range; and in so doing he may learn that the tail is abruptly rufous in contrast with the olive-brown of the back, and that the breast is more boldly and distinctly spotted than is the case with the Russet-backed Thrush.
Winter: The dwarf hermit thrush spends the winter in California, Lower California, Arizona, and New Mexico. For the Fresno district of California, John G. Tyler (1913) writes: “From mid-October until March occasional examples of this thrush may be found in the willows along the ditches, where they seclude themselves for the most part in the gloomiest shady clumps of large trees. They are quite silent during the time they remain with us, and of such sluggish natures as to appear almost stupid at times. I h’we sometimes walked up to within five or six feet of one of these birds without causing it the least alirm. At a nearer approach it would leisurely hop to another branch, just out of arm’s reach, where it would assume an air of indifference, and remain motionless for some time.”
Grinnell and Wythe (1927) say that the dwarf hermit thrush is an “~sbundant winter visitant throughout practically the whole [San Francisco Bay] region. Arrives ordinarily about the middle of October; an early record is September 26, at San Geronimo. To be found in woods, in chaparral, in stre’tm-side thickets, and in shrubbery of city gardens; in fact, it avoids only the most open ground of meadows, fields and hillsides.”
MONTEREY HERMIT THRUSH
HYLOCICHLA GUTTATA SLEVINI Grinnell
According to the 1931 Check-list, this small, gray hermit thrush “breeds in the Transition Zone of tbe coast belt in California from northern Trinity County to southern Monterey County. South in migration and in winter to Lower California, Arizona, and Sonora.”
It is the smallest of all the hermit thrushes, and its general coloration is nearly as pale and ashy as in the Sierra hermit thrush.
Grinnell and Wythe (1927) record the Monterey hermit thrush as a “summer resident in small numbers in the most humid parts of the immediate coast district” in the San Francisco Bay region. It “adheres closely to the denser redwood growths on shaded slopes and in canyon bottoms.”
Harry H. Sheldon (1908) says of a locality where he found it in Sonoma County: “In June of 1904 the writer made a collecting trip to the South Fork of the Gualala River, a small stream about forty feet in width slowly winding itself down a deep thickly wooded canyon. Its banks are bordered with a dense growth of huckleberry, and at their extreme edge the sweet azalea grows in myriads from a tangle of various ferns and lilies. In such places as this the Monterey Hermit Thrush (Hylocicida guttatti sleu’ini) makes his summer home.”
Migration: Harry S. Swarth (1904) records the Montercy hermit thrush as a migrant only in Arizona, and remarks:
At first it seems strange to find a bird belonging so decidedly to the Pacific Coast wandering as far as eastern Arizona, but when we consider that such species as the Hermit and Townsend Warbiers, Cassin Virco, and others, pass regularly through this region, it is evident that there is a regular line of migration from the Pacific Coast to the southeast, in spite of the formidable deserts that intervene, and might be expected to form an utterly impassable barrier.
I believe glevini to be a fairly common migrant in the Huachucas, though but few specimens were secured, for it is an extremely shy bird, and from the nature of the ground frequented, exceedingly difficult even to get sight of. Auduboni was found mostly in the pine woods, and guttc~a along the canyons, but slevini seemed to prefer the dense thickets covering the steep, dry, hillsides, an unpleasant place to travel in at any time, and almost hopeless ground in which to pursue a shy, secretive bird like the present species. The specimens secured were, a male shot on March 9, 1903, and two females taken on May 8th, and another on April 19, 1902.
Nesting: ln the locality mentioned above, Mr. Sheldon (1908) found several nests of the Monterey hermit thrush, with eggs or young or under construction. One was “in a clump of branches of an oak tree about eight feet from the ground above the stream”; the bird was working on this nest on May 27, but it was never completed. On May 30 he found another nest, “placed in the shoots of an alder on the bank of the river, and like our previous experience the bird saw us and the nest was abandoned.” A nest previously located in process of construction was visited on June 3 and found to contain a complete set of three eggs. “This nest was placed in a bush of huckleberry on the edge of the stream three feet from the creek bed. It was composed of chips of dead wood, small branches of huckleberry, dead leaves and twigs, and held together with mosses and rootlets. The lining consisted of fine redwood bark, fibers, fine rootlets and the remains of dead leaves. * * * All nests found were placed from two to eight feet from the ground, their favorite nesting site being in patches of huckleberry and in all cases situated close to the stream.”
Robert R. Talmadge gives me this description of two nests: “The first nest was composed mostly of green moss, with small rootlets, decomposed leaves, and small twigs. The lining was made of rootlets, decomposed leaves, and a little shredded redwood bark. The second nest was located while I was looking for a place to eat lunch. I had entered a small clearing and was approaching a small tan oak, when the bird flushed out into my face. This nest was quite different from the first, being composed mostly of small redwood twigs (with the needles still attached) and shredded redwood bark. There was a noticeable lack of moss, only a few bit~, being found. The lining was of rootlets, dried grasses and bark.”
Eggs: The Monterey hermit thrush lays three to five eggs, probably most often four. These are indistinguishable from the eggs of other hermit thrushes of similar size. The measurements of 30 eggs average 21.5 by 16.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 23.2 by 16.9, 21.9 by 17.2, 20.4 by 16.1, and 21.2 by 15.6 millimeters.
SIERRA HERMIT THRUSH
HYLOCICHLA GUTTATA SEQUOIENSIS (Belding)
This is a gray hermit thrush, similar in coloration to both auduboni and slevini, but intermediate in size between the two.
Lyman Belding (1889a) described it as a distinct species under the name “big tree thrush,” from specimens collected at Big Trees, Calaveras County, Calif. He says, in part: “In size between the Dwarf and Audubon’s Thrushes. In color paler than either or any American thrush I have ever seen; both above and below considerably resembling T. aliciae, the spotting included, while its cheeks are still grayer than in aliciae. Tail and coverts about as light cinnamon as in T. auduboni.”
It breeds in the various mountain ranges from southern British Columbia to southern California and migr¶ites southeastward to Texas and northern Mexico. Samuel F. Rathbun tells me that it is the breeding form in the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington, as well as in the Cascades; he found it in the former mountains in summer at 3,700 to 4,300 feet; in the vicinity of Seattle it occurs regularly, as a migrant only, in April and again from about the middle of August until late in fall.
J. Stuart Rowley writes to me that, in the high Sierra country of Mono County, Ca]if., he “found this bird to be a well distributed race from about 7,000 feet elevation upward to timberline.”
Nesting: Mr. Rowley says in his notes: “I have observed many occupied nests; and fresh eggs may be found on the same day as young birds on the wing throughout the latter part of June and into July. The average seems to be four eggs, but often oniy three are laid, and I have found several containing five eggs. The nesting sites chosen seem to be almost anywhere. I have found them in aspens, in lodgepole pine, in willow, and, along Manunoth Creek, in the Artemisia trident ata brush, much to my surprise. My notes show fresh eggs found on May 30 and fresh eggs observed on July 9.”
Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) found several nests in the Lassen Peak region. The site of the first one, found 1’vlay 28, 1927, “was in deep, dark fir woods with lodgepole pines and aspens close by. The nest was slightly over one and one-half meters above the ground, saddled at the intersection of a dead fir stem four centimeters in diameter slanting at a forty-five degree angle against a live young fir stem nine and one-half centimeters in diameter. The slanting stem and emanating dead twigs furnished most of the support.” In some other cases, the nests were placed between small trees, usually an incense cedar and a young lodgepole pine, from 80 centimeters to a meter above the ground, sapported by branches and twigs of the two little trees. A photograph of a nest in such a situation is shown.
Dr. Grinnell (1908) found many nests, both 01(1 and new, in the San Bernardino Mountains above an altitude of 6,300 feet. “They were all built in small firs or cedars usually growing in the shade of taller trees not far from the streams. The nests varied from eighteen inches to five feet in height above the ground, the average being about three feet.” A typical nest “was three feet above the ground near the top of a diminutive fir tree growing a yard from the stream. * * * It was snugly ensconced against the main stem and was supported by horizontal branches. It was a compact structure deeply cup-shaped. The inside diameter wes 2.40 and the depth 1.65 inches. Externally it measured 4 X 4.75 inches. It was composed largely of pine needles and weathered grass stems, and the cavity was lined with strips of cedar bark and fine dry rootlets.”
Rollo H. Beck (1900) found an unusually high nest, which he recorded as a nest of Audubon’s hermit thrush, but, as it was in the Sierra Nevadas, it undoubtedly belonged to a Sierra hermit thrush. He writes: “We were near the summit of the Sierras on the 6th of June, 1896, and while looking around in a grove of trees, I noticed a nest well out on a pine limb, thirty feet from the ground. On climbing the tree, the bird was seen upon the nest and flew off when closely approached. The nest is strongly built of twigs and bright yellow moss (Evernia vi.dpina), with a layer of fine dry leaves, within which is a heavy lining of fine grass stems. The nest contained four fresh eggs.”
Taylor and Shaw (1927) show a photograph, taken by Mr. and Mrs. Finley, near the Third Crossing Bridge on the Washington Cascades, Paradise River. It was “in the branches of a scrub fir that hung down from the top of a rock wall a few feet above the rushing waters and not more than 20 feet from the railing of the bridge.” The only nest found by Mr. Belding (1889a) “was in a hazel bush (Corylus) about three feet from the ground; was about five inches across the top and about half as deep; composed of small roots and lined with shreds of the bark of incense cedar (Librocedrus), with moss, lichens and dead leaves on the exterior.”
Eggs: The Sierra hermit thrush lays three to five eggs to a set, but most commonly four. These are similar to the eggs of other hermit thrushes of similar size. The measurements of 30 eggs average 21.8 by 16.4 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 23.3 by 16.8, 22.8 by 17.3, 20.3 by 16.3, and 23.0 by 15.5 millimeters.
Behavior: Grinnel1 and Storer (1924) describe the behavior of hermit thrushes very well as follows:
The demeanor of the hermit thrush is quiet and deliberate. When foraging on the ground it acts in much the same manner as a robin, hopping several times in quick succession and then halting upright and immobile for a few seconds to scan the immediate Vicinity before going forward again. There is this important difference, however: The hermit thfush seldom forages out in the oper., and if it dces it never goes far away from cover, to which it can flee in case of need. When foraging on shaded ground strewn with dead leaves its characteristic performance is to seize a leaf in its bill and throw it to one side with a very quick movement of the head, following this with an intent gaze at the spot uncovered. A thrush will flick over leaf after leaf in this manner, every now and ther. finding some insect which is swallowed, as is a berry, at one gulp. Hermit thrushes thus make use of a source of food not sought after by other birds; fox sparrows may forage over the same ground, but they are after seeds, which they get at by scratching. The thrushes do not use their feet at all for uncovering food. The thrushes’ legs are relatively long, so that the birds stand high, and have consequently an increased scope of vision.
Taylor and Shaw (1927) write: “Curiosity is a marked trait. Once while we visited our traps a thrush appeared within 15 feet. At short intervals it gave a whistled I whit or whooit call. Frequently, but not always, one, two, or three wing flirts were given a.t the same time as the call. The bird seemed torn between conflicting emotions, once or twice making as if to leave, but each time curiosity got the better of it and it remained. It cocked first one eye at the intruder, then the other. Once it scratched the corner of its mouth. It remained on the lower branches of a western hemlock usually 12 to 15 feet above the ground.”
Hermit thriishes usually are seen in dense thickets in deep forests, or in the lower branches of the larger trees, but Mr. Belding (1889b) says that the Sierra hermit thrush sometimes “wanders at a considerable height through the foliage of the firs and other coniferous trees, when it is followed with much difficulty, even if its brilliant song is often heard. I shot the female type specimen while she was fluttering about seventy-five feet from the ground at the ends of fir twigs and catching insects in the manner of the warblers and tyrant flycatehers.”
On the fall migration this, like other thrushes, often resorts to yards and gardens in towns and cities. Mr. Rathbun writes in his notes for August 30, 1913: “Another hermit thrush was seen this afternoon in the garden at the edge of the shrubbery. I was watering with the hose, and the bird would run out and dabble in the water. Seeing that it liked this, I created a little running stream, and the thrush took advantage of this in which to bathe. The bird acted very tame, and I played with it for fully ten minutes, driving it from place to place by means of the hose, aiM still it would not leave.”
Voice: The song of the Sierra hermit thrush is not inferior to the far-famed song of our eastern bird, which to my mind is the most uplifting of all bird songs; once heard in the picturesque surroundings of its mountain haunts, its charm can never be forgotten. Everyone who has heard it has praised it. When heard in contrast with the songs of other birds, any other song, however charming it may ordinarily be, seems like an intrusion on the soulful chant of this mountain minstrel.
Dawson (1923) writes of it: “Having nothing of the dash and abandon of Wren or Ouzel, least of all the sportive mockery of the Western Chat, it is the pure offering of a shriven soul, holding acceptable converse with high heaven. * * * Mounted on the chancel of some low-crowned fir tree, the bird looks calmly at the setting sun, and slowly phrases his worship in such dulcet tones, exalted, pure, serene, as must haunt the corridors of memory forever after.”
MONO HERMIT THRUSH
HYLOCICHLA GUTTATA POLIONOTA Grinnell
In the White Mountains of Mono and Inyo Counties in California, Dr. Joseph Orinnell (1918) discovered this decidedly local subspecies, which he found only in a limited range in these mountains between 8,000 and 10,000 feet altitude. He says of its characters:
Size large, between that of H. g. seqeoiensis of the Sierra Nevada and of H. g. auduberti of the Rocky Mountains, nearest the former. Color of top of head and dorsum different from that in either of these races and, in fact, from that in any previously known race of Hermit Thrush. The tone of this coloration is the “olive-brown” of Ridgway (1912), and is close to that of the corresponding areas in the Olive-hacked Thrush (Hylocichla estelata swaiasoni); it is if anything even more slaty. * * * The race sequoiensis, of the Sierra Nevada just across Owens Valley to the west and in plain sight from the White Mountains, is ordinarily referred to as a pale-colored or even grayish-colored Hermit Thrush; but compared with polionote, the contrast in dorsal view is as of brown with slate-gray. The resemblance of polionota to the Olive-backed Thrush is striking. * * *
In an examination of hundreds of specimens of Hermit Thrushes from throughout the United States elsewhere than from the White Mountains, the writer has been unable to find one referable to the race poiionotc. It would seem that this subspecies, like some other migratory brids of the high mountains of the southwest, goes south in the fall to, and back again in the spring from, some far southern winter home without touching the lowlands within hundreds of miles of its restricted summer habitat.
M. G. Vaiden (1940) reports a specimen of this subspecies taken 5 miles south of Rosedale, Mississippi, on April 12, 1940; this specimen is now number 51587 in the collection of Dr. Louis B. Bishop, of Pasadena, Calif.
Dr. Jean M. Linsdale (1938) has extended the breeding range of the Mono hermit thrush into the Great Basin region, where he found it breeding commonly in the Toyabe Mountains in central Nevada, about 150 miles east of the California boundary. He says that it “seemed to be most numerous at about 8,000 feet, but nearly all t.he range where there were trees was occupied. The lines and groves of trees which grew close to streams were most certain to be occupied by hermit thrushes. Also they lived out over the ridges, on slopes covered with mountain mahogany, where the trees were close together, and where there was leaf litter on the ground. One factor of apparent importance in determining the presence of this thrush was the availability of shade. However, the shade was not dense in most of the territory occupied in this area.”
Nesting: Dr. Linsdale (1938) records some nine nests found by him in the Toyabe Mountains; one found on June 18 contained four small young, four on the 19th held four eggs each, two on the 21st three eggs each, and one found on June 24 contained three wellfeathered young. These nests were all at elevations varying from 7,500 to 8,500 feet; four of them were in aspens, living or dead, three were in willows, and two were in sage; the heights above ground varied from 2 feet in a sage to 15 feet in a dead aspen, but only two were above 6 feet. Referring to the lowest nest, he says:
Another nest in a small grove of aspens at 8,000 feet was in the crotch of a sage bush, its rim only 2 feet above the ground. The rim, inside, measured 77 mm.; outside, 180 mm. Depth, outside, was 120 mm. The outer part of the nest was mainly the dead flowering stems of sage. The inner part was made of shreds of bark, rootlets, grass stems and black horsehair. Three eggs made up the set.
When I came within 3 feet, the brooding bird left and flew off silently. * * * With 1 or 2 exceptions when the bird may have been off the nest, all of the brooding birds showed a marked reluctance to leave. Most of them permitted approach close enough to touch them before starting. Then they usually dropped to a perch near the ground and moved away quietly.
A nest that was 3 feet from the ground in a 5-foot sagebush “was on a slope 15 feet from the margin of a grove of aspens which bordered a stream. The bush was on a northwest-facing slope where it was exposed to the sun for nearly the full day. Near it were grass, herbaceous plants, and Symphoricarpus.”
There are three sets of eggs in the Doe collection, University of Florida, that were placed somewhat higher; one nest, containing four eggs, was located 12 feet from the ground in a small yellow pine; a set of three eggs came from a nest that was 20 feet up and 10 feet out on a limb of a lodgepole pine; and another set of five eggs was in a nest 30 feet from the ground in an aspen. These were all collected in the White Mountains.
Eggs: The set for the Mono hermit thrush usually consists of three or four eggs, usually the latter number. These are very similar to the eggs of other hermit thrushes of similar size. The measurements of 30 eggs average 22.2 by 16.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 24.1 by 15.3, 22.0 by 17.5, 19.9 by 16.0, and 21.6 by 15.3 miUimeters.
AUDUBON’S HERMIT THRUSH
HYLOCICHLA GUTTATA AUDUBONI (Baird)
This mountain race is the most widely distributed of the western hermit thrushes, breeding from southeastern British Columbia and Montana, mainly in the Rocky Mountain region, south to Arizona and New Mexico, and in the Sierra de La Laguna in southern Lower California.
It was first recognized as distinct from the eastern hermit thrush by Baird (1864), who named it, based on a specimen from Fort Bridger, Wyo., of which he says: “The back is rather more olivaceous than in pallasii, the rump paler and less rufous, and the colors generally much as in nanus. * * * Whether the present bird be specifically distinct from T. pallasii or not, there is no doubt of its being a decidedly marked race, of larger size and grayer plumage above.’~ It is decidedly the largest of the hermit thrushes and is quite similar in coloration to the Sierra hermit thrush, the other mountain race.
It seems strange that this thrush should be found apparently breeding in the Sierra de la Laguna, so far removed from the remainder of the breeding range of this subspecies, with no other hermit thrush breeding in the gap, but there seems to be no doubt about it. Mr. Frazar collected six specimens in these mountains for Mr. Brewster (1902), five of which were typical of this subspecies; and, as they were taken between May 11 and June 8, they were probably breeding there. “This Thrush, which has not been previously reported from any portion of Lower California, was found by Mr. Frazar only in the Sierra de la Laguna, where it inhabited deep, moist, shady caflons, and also, to some extent, dry pine woods. It was not numerous, but was seen almost daily during May, and up to the 9th of June when Mr. Frazar started for Triunfo. The males were in full song, and there can be little doubt that they and their mates were settled for the season and preparing to breed on this mountain.”
Audubon’s hermit thrush has well been called the Rocky Mountain hermit thrush, for everywhere its chosen summer home is at the higher altitudes in the mountains, in the deep recesses of the pine woods, in the open groves of aspens, or higher up in the dense forests of spruces and firs, even up to the tree limit. In Arizona and New Mexico it may be looked for in summer at between 7,000 and 12,000 feet elevation; and even as far north as Montana its range is between 4,000 and 6,000 feet altitude. Mrs. Bailey (1928) gives the following picture of its haunts in New Mexico:
At 11,000 feet, on Jack Creek below Pecos Baldy, we found them so surprisingly abundant in the dense spruce and fir forest that we named our camp Hylocichia Camp. From the woods above, below, and around us came their beautiful songs, the first heard in the morning and the last at night. At sunset, as we walked through the cool, still, spruce woods, its pale beards lit by the last slanting rays, involuntarily treading lightly to make no sound, from unseen choristers a serene uplifted chant arose, growing till it seemed to fill the remote aisles of the forest. Sometimes a silvery voice would come from the open edge of the dark forest, where the singer looked far down the mountainside and out over the wide mesa-clad plains: a wide view, the beauty and sweep of which seemed in rare harmony with his untroubled spirit.
Russell K. Grater tells me that this thrush is a fairly common summer resident in Zion National Park, Washington County, Utah, above 8,000 feet, nesting in June and July, in the fir belt.
Spring: Audubon’s hermit thrush probably breeds in some of the higher, spruce-clad mountains in Arizona, but Mr. Swarth (1904) met with it in the iluachucas only as a migrant between April 18 and May 19; the latter was in worn plumage and may have been a breeding bird. “I secured most of my specimens of auduboni in the highest parts of the range, feeding, not in the thick bushes and underbrush, as most of the thrushes do, but on the open ground under the big pines, scratching and working in the pine needles with which the ground was thickly covered. One or two specimens were secured in the canyons as low as 6,000 feet, but the great majority of the birds seen were along the divide of the mountain, from 8,500 feet upward.”
Nesting: I can find no record of Audubon’s hermit thrush nesting on the ground, as is the common habit of the eastern hermit thrush. The nearest approach to a ground nest is that described in the data for a set in my collection, taken for Frederick M. Dille in Estes Park, Cob.; this was placed in what he called a “ground pine” and not 6 inches from the ground.
In New Mexico, according to Mrs. Baiiey (1928), the nest is placed in bushes or low trees usually in pine or spruce, but also in oak saplings, 3 to 10 feet from the ground; bulky, made almost wholly of bark and coarse grasses, outside covered with moss.” Dr. Edgar A. Mearns (1890) tells of a nest that was built near his camp in the mountains of Arizona. “The nest was saddled on to the middle of the lowest limb of a large spruce, and the birds gathered material for its construction close about my tent with perfect freedom from shyness, accepting proffered bits of cotton for its completion.”
William L. Sclater (1912) has this to say about nests in Colorado:
Gale’s notes contain the record of a large number of nests found by him at various elevations, from about 6,000 to 11,000 feet; they were placed almost exclusively on spruce trees from about three to ten feet from the ground, generally in a spot near a mountain stream or close to a spring.
Nests were constiucted of various materials, such as rotten wood, mosses, grasses and plant stems, and lined with rootlets, horsehair or fine grasses. All these materials have been found in the nests, though by no means in every nest. The construction varied considerably, but no clay or mud is used. The nests were very quickly completed; one begun on June 6th was finished on the 13th, and the first clutch of eggs laid by the 18th.
The nests of this thrush seem to be quite large and well built. D. D. Stone (1884) describes such a Colorado nest as follows: “Nest in small pine, five feet from ground, a few feet from edge of heavy timber. Parent glided off the nest and out of sight without a note. Nest, a slight base, and sides of twigs and coarse grass stems, within a compact wall ~ inch thick, of green moss woven in with fine straw and rootlets. It is the most solid nest I ever saw, for one made without mud. Outer diameter 5Y~ inches, height 3~i inches, inner diameter 234 inches, depth 2 inches.”
Eggs: Except for an average difference in size, the eggs of Audubon’s hermit thrush are similar to those of other races of the species. Four is probably the commonest number, but sets of three or five have been found. The color is light greenish blue, or “Nile blue.”
The measurements of 40 eggs in the average 22.8 by 17.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 24.6 by 15.3, 21.6 by 18.5, 21.1 by 18.1, and 22.9 by 15.2 millimeters.
Food: The vegetable food consists largely of wild fruit or waste cultivated fruit. Among the wild berries eaten are pokeberry, serviceberry, holly, black alder, woodbine, elderberries, mistletoe berries, and the seeds of poison-oak. Animal food includes ants, caterpillars, beetles and other insects, and spiders. It evidently does no harm to cultivated crops.
Voice: The exquisite song of this thrush is fully as beautiful and inspiring as that of its famous eastern relative, which, in my estimation, is one of our most beautiful bird songs. Mrs. Bailey (1902) expresses it very well as follows:
As you travel through the spire-pointed fir forests of the western mountains, you know the thrush as a voice, a bell-like sublimated voice, which, like the tolling of the Angelus, arrests toil and earthly thought. Its phrases can be expressed in the words Mr. Burroughs has given to the eastern hermit, “Oh, spheral, spheral! oh, holy, holy!” and the first strain arouses emotions which the regularly falling cadences carry to a perfect close. The fine spirituality of the song, its serene uplifting quality, make it fittingly associated with nature’s most exalted moods, and it is generally heard in the solemn stillness of sunrise, when the dark fir forest is tipped with gold, or in the hush of sunset, when the western sky is aglow and the deep voice rises from its chantry in slow, soul-stirring cadences, high-up-highup, look-up, look-up.
Leon Kelso (1935), writing of it in Colorado, says: “They sing at all times of the day, but most often in the evening. June 17, 1933, they sang as late as 8:00 p. m. June 20, they sang as late as 8:20 p. m. One gave songs at intervals of 6: 3: 4: 7: 8: 2: 5 seconds. June 21, 7:00 a. m. the same bird sang at intervals averaging 5: 6 seconds. At 4: 4:30 p. m. it sang at 5: 10 second intervals while the writer stood within ten feet of its perch. At 7:45 p. m. it sang at intervals of 4: 5: 5: 5-4: 6: 5 seconds. All birds of this species ceased singing at 8:15 p. m~ on this day, it then being quite dark.”
Enemies: Audubon’s hermit thrush is listed by Dr. Friedmann (1929) as a rare victim of the Nevada cowbird; but he has only one definite record, that of a nest in the R. M. Barnes collection that held three eggs of the thrush and one of the cowbird.
Winter: Audubon’s hermit thrush goes farther south in winter than any of the other hermit thrushes. Dr. Helmuth 0. Wagner (MS.) says of its winter haunts in Ivlexico: “In the winter time, from October 15 to April 4, you will find it in the forests around Mexico City and in the parks of the city. In the mountains I saw at all times only single birds, neither with other birds nor with those of its own species. They prefer to stay in the barancas and on the sides of the small brooks. The winter is the dry season here, and they are living only in the moister parts of the forests. In the city I saw them on the lawns which are watered each day. If the winter is very dry they travel to places where conditions are better; this winter, 1942: 43, is extremely dry; I saw the last bird on November 13.”
EASTERN HERMIT THRUSH
HYLOCICHLA GUTTATA FAXONI Bangs and Penard
CONTRIBUTED BY ALFRED OTTO GROSS
The hermit thrush ranks high in the list of our favorite North American birds. The exquisite song of this modest bird of the northern woodlands has captivated the affections of a host of bird lovers. Those who have been privileged to hear its song possess delightful memories of associations with the hermit: perhaps a wooded border of some mirrored lake or some fern-carpeted woodland; or again they may have heard the fluted notes ringing across some brilliant sunset scene.
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.”
Unfortunately those who know the hermit only as a migrant are unfamiliar with this bird as the accomplished singer, for it passes on its migration without uttering more than a few uninteresting calls. Some of the earlier ornithologists were evidently unaware of its accomplishments. Wilson did not know of its song and Audubon as far as his personal acquaintance with the bird is concerned speaks only of its single plaintive note. One must meet the hermit in its nesting haunts of the northern woods to know this bird at its best.
0. Bangs and T. E. Penard (1921) found the two original names of the hermit thrush untenable. Turdus solitarius Wilson is preoccupied by Turdus solitarius Linnaeus. Wilson’s description is of the hermit thrush, but the plate to which he referred represents Hylocichia ustulata swainsonji (Cabanis). Turdus brunneus Brewer is preoccupied by Turdus brunneus Boddaert=Euphagus carolinus (Mflller). But from Brewer’s article it is difficult to determine whether Turdus brunneus “Gmel.” refers to Hyloci~h1a guttata pallasii or Hylocichia ustukUa swains~mii. Both names are thus of a composite nature, and the authors considered it best to propose an entirely independent name, Hylocichkl guttata faxoni subsp. nov., for the eastern hermit thrush.
According to Ridgway (1907) the eastern hermit thrush is most like Hylocichla guttata nana of the six western subspecies, but the upperparts are of a lighter, more isabelline or cinnamomeous brown, spots on chest averaging larger, sides and flanks more huffy brown, and bill stouter. The various subspecies of the hermit thrush are of minor importance in a discussion of the habits and life history, and what is true of the eastern hermit thrush will in most instances also apply to the western forms.
Spring: The migration of the hermit thrush through the United States is confused by the presence of wintering individuals. There are countless numbers of migration records early in March, but it is apparent that the peak of migration up the Mississippi Valley and into Canada is during April. An examination of some of the Canadian records of migration is of interest. According to J. H. Fleming (1907) the hermit is an abundant migrant at Toronto from April 13 to May 10. His earliest date of spring arrival is April 8. At. Aweme, Manitoba, latitude 490 42′ N., Norman Criddle (1922) in 19 years of observation found the average date of its first arrival to be May 2. His earliest record is April 19, 1917. Lynds Jones (1910) made extensive studies of bird migration on the sand spit of Cedar Point, Ohio. The comparative isolation of the spit from the mainland makes it the first step in the flight to Point Pelce on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie. In migration the birds are concentrated in this strip, which can be likened to the neck of a funnel. According to Jones the hermits are usually so nmnerous during migration that they spread well over the whole of the sand spit. The median date of spring arrival is April 2, the earliest March 21, 1903. The median date of spring departure is May 5, the latest May 20, 1907. It is seen that although a few individuals arrive at the spit in March, possibly individuals that wintered a relatively short distance south, the bulk do not arrive until April and do not leave until May.
The hermit thrush is the hardiest member of its group, for it is the first to arrive in spring and the latest to leave in autumn. Indeed, some individuals remain in certain sections of the southern limits of the breeding range, wherever there is an adequate food supply, to brave the cold winter. It dislikes snow, however, and usually manages to keep south of the line where snow remains on the ground for an extended period. It normally winters south of the 40th parallel to the Gulf States and west to central Texas. The migration starts in March, and by the middle of April it arrives in central New England, New York, southern Michigan, and Minnesota. During the first week of May it has reached the northern limits of its breeding range. It makes the journey by night and rests during the day. During the height of the migration large numbers are often seen in the parks and churchyards among the tall buildings and bustling life of our larger cities. After the ordeal of the nocturnal flight the birds are hungry, often exhausted, and at such times exhibit little fear and may be seen feeding about dooryards, allowing human observers to approach near to them. It they are caught in a snowstorm this behavior becomes even more pronounced. I have had individuals, benumbed by the cold, eat out of my hands, and one bird even allowed me to pick it up to be carried to the house to be warmed.
The hermits follow no special migration route in reaching their northern home except in the far West. Here they fly on a direct northwest route that takes them as far as the ~’Tackenzie and Yukon Valleys. In fall the hermit starts southward in September, but it is well toward the end of October before the bulk of them have left their northern summer ranges. E. A. Preble tells me that he saw one early in December in Wilmington, Mass., about 1890.
Nesting: The nest of the hermit thrush is a compact structure but often bulky in the amount of nesting materials used. The foundation and exterior of a typical nest are composed of twigs, strips of wood, bark fibers, dried grass, and ferns and ornamented on the outside by bits of green moss. The lining is made up of pine needles, delicate plant fibers, or fine rootlets. The interior dimensions of the nesting bowl are about 23~ inches across by 2 inches deep.
The nest is generally built on the ground and in a natura.l depression of a knoll or hummock, often under a small fir or hemlock whose branches touch the ground, forming a kind of protective canopy over the nest. One nest found in northern Michigan was in a rather open space of woodland and was completely surrounded by blossoming bunchberries, and another nest was completely hidden from view by a luxuriant growth of ferns. I have found them along the edges of old wood roads and on the borders of pasturelands skirted by shrubbery and trees. In northern I\Iaine the nests may be found in tussocks of the wet sphagnum bogs that are surrounded by growths of larches, spruce, and other coniferous trees. On Long Island the hermit frequents the hottest and driest barrens where the ground is carpeted with little else but bearberry and pine-barren sandwort. Near the site of the University of Michigan Biological Station, Douglas Lake, northern Michigan, the hermit is one of the commonest of the nesting birds. During July 1928 we found six nests in dry upland covered with a second growth that had sprung up after a severe fire that had raged through the section a few years before.
The hermit sometimes departs from its usual habit of nesting on the ground. Henry R. Carey (1925) reports finding a nest 5 feet up in a small hemlock, and Horace XV. Wright (1920) found a hermit’s nest resting firmly on several bean poles at a point 4 feet above the around. A pair observed by John May was nesting in what appeared to be a typical robin’s nest 2 feet up in a young hemlock. This nest had a foundation of coarse grasses and weeds, a middle layer of mud, and a lining of fine grasses. I found a hermit’s nest on a barren shelf of rock of a perpendicular ledge adjoining a deserted feldspar quarry in Topsham, Maine. The shelf on which the nest was built was 15 inches wide and 3 feet long and about 7 feet above the ground. The nesting site though in an exposed situation was well shaded during most hours of the day by the dense foliage of several large hemlock trees. The nest was made of the usual nesting materials, but the twigs and leaves of the foundation were spread over an area of 12 to 15 inches. The nesting bowl of the deep cupped nest was well formed and firmly constructed.
Though we associate the hermits with lonely situations remote from the habitations of man, they have been known to nest about buildings. Miss Annie L. Warner, of Salem, Mass., wrote to Mr. Forbush (1929) that she found a hermit’s nest with two well-grown fledglings about 7 feet from the ground, on a shelf under the eaves of a piazza of an occupied camp on Lake Winnipesaukee. Another hermit was reported nesting in a tin gutter under the eaves of the second story of a home at Holderness, N. H. (E. DeMeritte, 1920). Verna R. Johnston (1943) found a hermit thrush nesting on a rafter under a roof of a building at the University of Colorado Biological Station, at Boulder, Cob. The station is located at an elevation of 9,500 feet.
Eggs: The eggs of the hermit thrush are ovate or elongate-ovate and a plain greenish blue in color. They are similar in appearance to the eggs of the Wilson’s thrush but are of a much more delicate and lighter shade of blue. Occasionally the eggs are spotted. In correspondence received from Francis H. Allen he writes that one egg of a set of three found at Bridgewater, N. H., on August 1, 1883, has thinly scattered small brown spots. Another found near the same place on August 9 of the same year contained three eggs, one of which was spotted. Harry 0. Parker (1887) writes that in two eggs in a set of three there were minute spots of black. An application of an acid wash failed to remove the spots. Others have reported similar markings on the eggs of the hermit thrush, but spotted eggs are by no means of common occurrence.
The number of eggs per complete set varies from three to six, but the vast majority of nests contain three or four eggs.
The measurements and weights in millimeters and grams of two typical sets of eggs are as follows:
NEST FOUND AT DEUNS WICK, MAINE, JULY 16, 1928 Long diameter Short diameter Weight 23.2 18.4 4.05 23.6 18.6 4.89 22.8 18.3 395 21.9 17.1 3.45
NEST FOUND AT DRUNSWICK, MAINE, AUGUST 1, 1930 24.1 17.2 3.35 23.5 17.5 3.34 24.0 16.5 3.26
The measurements of 40 eggs in the United States National Museum average 22.1 by 16.8 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 23.6 by 17.3, 22.6 by 18.0, 20.1 by 17.5, and 20.8 by 15.8 millimeters.
Incubation: The determination of the incubation period of 12 days is based on the study of two nests that were under continuous daily observation at Brunswick, Maine. On May 26, 1928, a nest of the hermit thrush located at the base of a small fir tree contained two eggs. On May 27 there were three, and on May 28 the set of four eggs was completed. Incubation, however, did not start until the following day, May 29. At 8 o’clock on the morning of June 10 there were three freshly hatched young, and the fourth hatched during the afternoon. A second nest was nearly completed but contained no eggs when it was found on June 10, 1940. This nest was in a natural depression located in a thick growth of blueberry vines. The first egg was laid during the morning of June 12. On June 16 there were four eggs and incubation started. The first egg laid hatched at 5 ~. M. on June 28; the other three were hatched by dawn the next morning. The incubation period of the hermit. thrush as reported by various observers varies from 10 to 13 days, but this wide range does not represent a real variation but probably is due to the failure to ascertain the exact time of the beginning of incubation as well as that of hatching.
In the nests I have had under observation only one of the pair, presumably the female, took part in the incubation of the eggs. The incubating bird was seen to leave the nest in search of food, but much of the food was delivered to her by her mate while she was attending her duties on the nest. During the 12 days of incubation the male spent much of his time singing and serving as guard against the intrusion by other birds or enemies that appeared in his territory. He often chose as a sentinel post the lower branch of a large pine tree that stood about 40 feet from the nesting site. At other times he perched at the tip of a small dead tree stub in an open situation where he was readily observed from the blind. Whenever there was an accidental noise or disturbance inside the blind to arouse his suspicions he would utter a chuck, chuck call accompanied by a characteristic sudden up-tilting and slow lowering of his tail.
The hermit is a wary bird, and during the first few days I spent in the blind the least provocation caused the bird to leave the nest with a whir of wings. But in the course of a few minutes after each such disturbance she flew back to a place within a few yards of the nest and from that point approached with caution, frequently stopping at some elevated knoll carefully to scrutinize the surroundings. She then crept close to the ground under cover of the vegetation, her progress being made known by the rustling of the leaves. She often took a circuitous route and when near sometimes circled about the nest on wing suspended in hummingbird fashion. Again after alighting she went along stealthily in a series of hops and when finally assured all was well went confidently to the nest. She adjusted the eggs with her bill and then settled on them, moving her body back and forth until the feathers of the breast were separated, permitting the eggs to come in direct contact with her warm body. This adjustment is repeated several times and not until it meets with her complete satisfaction does she settle down to the arduous task of incubation. The raised feathers of the neck and back then fall back to their normal position, the tips of the primaries are crossed over the rump, and the bill assumes an upward tilt. She is then motionless and her soft brown colors blend so into the lights and shadows of the surroundings that she is practically hidden from view. The eggs are turned at frequent intervals during the course of the day. From time to time the male, who seemed even more cautious than his mate, would timidly approach the nest, announcing his coming with a wee call. With a look of apparent admiration and devotion he delivered some choice insect or larvae in commendation of a task well done. Sometimes instead of bringing food he carried nesting material. This was graciously received by the female who merely cast it to one side of the nest. This behavior is of frequent occurrence among certain groups of birds such as the herons, gallinules, and hawks, but I have never before noted this behavior, a response to an emotional urge, exhibited in the Turdidne.
Once a red-eyed vireo unwittingly alighted in the small tree under which the nest was located. The male immediately uttered his war cry and dashed at the unwelcome intruder. He was joined by his mate and both birds chascd the vireo into the dense woodland beyond. At another time a red squirrel making his way through the grass and vines passed within 2 feet of the nest, but strangely enough his appearance did not seem to excite the birds in the least. However, the female on the nest after having caught sight of the squirrel followed every move until he had passed and was well out of sight. On another day a hummingbird hovered for 30 seconds between the nest and the blind not more than 3 feet above the nest, but neither bird paid any attention to this unusual visitor. 0. S. Pettingill, Jr. (1930), writes of a gartersnake that appeared among the leaves near a nest he was observing from a blind. The parent bird was much perturbed. She flew from the nest screaming alarm calls and hovering over the unwelcome guest in a defiant defensive attitude. It is apparent that through some previous experience or hereditary tendency the birds recognized the snake as an enemy to be challenged on sight.
Unless disturbed the female remained on the nest during the day, especially if it were cold and raining or when it was excessively hot. During the latter condition she would perch on the edge of the nest with her wings somewhat extended to keep the burning sun rays off the eggs or young. At one time when the temperature arose above 900 she kept her beak wide open and panted incessantly in order to retain her normal body temperature. Only in the early morning or late in the evening just before sunset did I see her leave the nest voluntarily. These trips were doubtless taken to supplement the food delivered to her by the male.
Young: After the eggs are pipped hatching proceeds rapidly. ‘rhe struggling embryo breaks the shell in two parts, the crack taking place near the greatest diameter. In the course of a few minutes the embryo is entirely free. Each time I saw this critical event happen the adult was away from the nest. On her return, after carefully inspecting the young, she picked up an empty half shell and carried it away returning immediately to remove the other part. The appearance of the young is an important event in the household and seems to excite the parents to greater activity. Both parents flit about nervously and seem most anxious to serve their offspring. They now exhibit less caution and more daring in approaching the nest. A small green larva was delivered and fed to the young in less than five minut3s after it had come into the world.
At the time of hatching the young are nearly naked, being clothed by only a few scant tufts of dark grayish down on the crown and dorsal tracts of the body. Though the eyes are closed during the first two or three days, the young birds are most responsive to the approach of the adults at the very start. In fact, a mere touch of the rim of the nest is sufficient to initiate the feeding response: uplifting their heads, extending their gape, and displaying the bright colors lining the mouth. Both parents take an active part in the feeding of the young and at all times take meticulous care of the sanitation of the nest. The excrement is received in their beaks as soon as it is emitted. The young are carefully examined and even stimulated by a stroke of their bills after each feeding until the fecal sac appears. During the first few days it is eaten, but thereafter it may be carried away and dropped at some distance from the nest.
The food at first consists of small green larvae, but as the young become older, mature insects, small grasshoppers, moths, beetles, and spiders are added to the diet. While the nestlings are very small they are frequently unable to swallow the food brought to them. After a morsel is thrust into an open mouth or into different mouths without being swallowed, the adult will mince it in her bill, or if the larva is large and both parents are present each will grasp an end and pull it apart. Sometimes after repeated failures of the young to swallow the food it is eaten by the adults. At one nest there seemed to be a great deal of difference in the choice of the food delivered. One of the birds would invariably bring food of the proper size and tenderness, while the other would bring enormous larvae or winged insects such as large sphinx moths totally unsuited as food for the age of the young being fed. The latter may have been a young inexperienced parent with its first offspring. Perhaps it was the male! At least human fathers are not supposed to know much about proper infant feeding.
On the third day the eyelids of the young are parted, and from then on their reactions are more and more responses to sight rather than sound. On the fourth day the papillae of the remiges have pierced the skin, and by the fifth day the chief feather tracts are welt defined. On the seventh day the tips of the primaries and secondaries are unsheathed, and those of the other tracts have tips which display the olive-brown and buffy colors. By the ninth day the young frequently preen their feathers, thus facilitating the unsheathing process, so that on the following day or two the full colors of the juvenal plumage are acquired. The young now exhibit evidence of fear when one approaches or when there is a disturbance near the nest. The tail feathers are well developed at this time but do not attain their full length until later when they are about six weeks old. When the young are 12 days old they are ready t.o leave the nest. If they are not frightened and not forced to leave the nest prematurely they are encouraged by the adults, who stay away from the nest and perch at some distance with an appetizing morsel in their beaks. The parents hop from perch to perch calling constantly until the hungry youngster responds. At such times I have seen one or more of the nestlings standing on the rim of the nest preening their feathers, flapping their wings, and going through all the gymnasties of a young osprey whose first venture away is by flight. Finally when the decision of the young hermit does come it leaps from the rim of the nest, flutters its wings, and then makes its way along the ground and through the vegetation in the direction of the coaxing adult. After a few yards of travel the youngster is rewarded with food. This performance of the adults is continued until all have left the nest in a similar fashion. If you attempt to follow the young they take a short flight at the same time, uttering .a series of distress calls, which are a signal for the adults to come to their rescue. At such times the adults exhibit unusual bravery and may even dash at the human intruder in rage.
As is true with other ground-nesting birds a comparatively small percentage of young reach maturity. Miss Cordelia J. Stanwood (1910) states that out of 14 nests containing a total of 47 eggs only 19 fledglings left the nest. Others are lost after leaving the nest before they are able to fly well enough to perch well above the ground out of reach of terrestrial enemies.
The relative growth of the young during the 12 days spent in the nest can be shown by their daily weighings. The average daily weights of three young of an apparently typical family brood were 4.12, 4.93, 7.21, 10.12, 14.76, 16.98, 19.21, 22.35, 24.60, 25.13, 25.61, and 24.81 grams, respectively, for the 12 days. It will be seen that the weighings increase rapidly during the first week of nest life, but the proportionate increase diminishes as they grow older and was actually less on the twelfth than on the preceding day. The weight at the end exceeded six times the weight at the beginning of nest life.
The nesting season of the hermit thrush extends over a relatively long period from May to August, or about three months. 0. W. Knight (1908) reports that he has found nests of the hermit thrush with full complements of eggs as early as May 1. Others have found nests with eggs during the first week of May. Miss C. J. Stanwood (1910) found a nest of the hermit thrush, containing three eggs, at Ellsworth, Maine, on August 22, 1909. The young left on September 8. Dr. C. Hart Merriam (1882) found a nest containing fresh eggs at Locust Grove, Lewis County, N. Y., on August 24, 1870. August nesting dates are by no means rare. This wide range in time of nesting dates, more than three months, is very suggestive that two or even three broods may be reared by a single pair of birds during one season. The incubation period is 12 days, and the time spent by the young in the nest is also only 12 days; hence a nest can be built and the young matured in the course of a month. The two distinct summer singing periods of the hermit are also suggestive of two nestings. It is well known that if the first nest proves a failure a second attempt will be made during the same season.
Plumages: The plumages and molts of the hermit thrush have been described by ,Jonathan Dwight (1900) as follows:
Juvenal plumage acquired by a complete postnatal moult. Above, including Bides of head, sepia or olive-brown, the rump russet, and everywhere spotted with large buff y white guttate spots bordered with black. The wings rather darker, the coverts and tertiaries with small terminal buffy spots. Tail burnt umber-brown. Below, white faintly tinged with buff, spotted with deep black, on tbe sides of neck, across the breast and on the flanks and crissum, the throat and breast, the fore part of the abdomen and flanks faintly barred. Bill and feet dull pinkish buff remaining pale when older. * * *
First winter plumage acquired by a partial postj~ivenal moult, beginning late in August, which involves the body plumage, most of the lesser and median coverts, but not the rest of the wings nor the tail. Similar to previous plumage but without spotting above and the black spots below fewer. Above, including sides of head olive tinged mummy-brown, burnt-umber on rump and upper tail coverts. Below, white tinged faintly with buff on throat and breast, with olive gray on the sides and spotted heavily on the throat and faintly oa the breast with large deltoid black spots. Lores and submalar lines black; orbital ring pale buff. The buff spotted coverts retained distinguish young from adults. * * *
First nuptial plumage acquired by wear, the upper surface becoming rather grayer and the buff below mostly lost.
Adult winter plumage acquired by a complete post-nuptial moult in August and September. Averages darker and lacks the tell-tale coverts and tertials of the first winter dress. Young and old become indistinguishable.
Adult nuptial plumage acquired by wear as in the young bird, from which it is usually distinguishable by the wing coverts.
The plumages and molts are alike in the two sexes.
Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1936) has determined the namber of contour feathers in a number of passeriform and related birds. His counts of the contour feathers of three hermit thrushes is as follows:
Date Number oflVe~gAt of T1’e~tAt of feathers bird feol hers GramsOra,n* October 21, 1933 Male 1,984 31.2 2.4 Do Female1,873 32.7 2.4 Do 7 1,828 3L9 2.3
Apparently albinisn is not of frequent occurrence in the hermit thrush as only two cases have come to my attention. John H. Sage (1886) reports a partial albino hermit thrush taken at Portland, Conn., on October 27, 1885, which had the top of the head and the back light gray. Below it was white, the spots on the breast fairly distinct. The primaries and secondaries were a fawn color. A pure albino hermit thrush was shot at Stamford, Coun., by W. H. Sanford.
Food: F. E. L. Beal (19 15b) examined the stomach contents of 551 hermit thrushes, which were collected in 29 States, the District of Columbia, and Canada. These specimens represent every month of the year, though all the birds taken in winter were collected from the Southern States, the District of Columbia, and California.
Animal matter, consisting chiefly of insects and a few spiders, comprises 64.51 percent of the total amount of the food eaten by the hermit thrush. The insects consisted of beetles 15.3 percent, ants 12.46 percent, bees and wasps 5.41 percent, caterpillars 9.54 percent, Hemiptera (bugs) 3.63 percent, Diptera (flies) 3.02 percent, grasshoppers and crickets 6.32 percent, miscellaneous insects 0.27 percent, and spiders and myriapods 7.47 percent. Miscellaneous animals such as sowbugs, snails, and angleworms make up the balance of the animal food of 1.26 percent. Of the insects listed above less than 3 percent can be considered useful; the remainder according to Professor Beal are chiefly harmful to man’s interest.
The vegetable diet of the hermit thrush (35.49 percent) consists largely of fruit, but little of this can be classed as cultivated. Beal found that 5.45 percent of the food eaten during September did consist of cultivated fruits but in most months the quantity was small, and in March, April, and May was completely wanting. The total amount of cultivated fruit eaten during the entire year was only 1.20 percent. Of the wild fruits (26.19 percent) 46 species were identified. A few seeds, ground-up vegetable matter not identified, and rubbish made up the remainder of the vegetable food, or 9.10 percent of the total.
S. A. Forbes (1880) in the examination of 150 thrushes obtained in Illinois found them destructive to useful predaceous beetles. The worst of the group in this respect was the hermit thrush, which maintained a high ratio of these beetles throughout the fruit season when the total insect food fell away rapidly. It is important in considering the insect food of any species to take into account the beneficial as well as harmful insects.
While in its winter haunts of the Southern States the hermit thrush feeds largely on wild fruits and berries such as dogwood, pokeberries, serviceberries, holly berries, blueberries, mistletoe, frost grapes, elderberries, spiceberries, mulberries, blackberries, and seeds of the greenbrier, Virginia-creeper, and sumac including the poison-ivy and poisonoak.
The hermit keeps close to wooded retreats, and hence the products of the farmer are seldom molested. The majority of the insects on which it feeds are injuries to trees and hence it can be considered a valuable tenant of the forest.
Lewis 0. Shelley (1930) reports that in southern New Hampshire after a snowstorm on April 12, 1929, many species of birds including the hermit thrush made efforts to find earthworms and insects near his home. The thrushes became so tame that they readily took earthworms from his fingers. In notes received from F. H. Kennard he states that a hermit thrush was found in the middle of a meadow, warm but dead. There was a large earthworm protruding from its mouth which had choked it to death.
Coit M. Coker (1931) reports an interesting experience with a nesting pair of hermit thrushes in the Allegheny foothills of western New York. He states that in fully one-quarter of the trips made to the nest with food 1)0th adults brought small salamanders of two species, the Allegany and red-backed salamanders. During the hotter parts of the day fewer salamanders were brought, and this Mr. Coker attributed to the fact that the heat had driven the salamanders deeper under cover. Others have reported salamanders comprising a part of the food delivered to the young. While observing a nest of hermit thrushes at Brunswick, Maine, I observed one of the adults deliver a salamander about 2 inches in length to the bird at the nest. In this case the salamander was not fed to the young, then five days old, but she ate it herself. A similar case was observed at a nest at Douglas Lake in northern Michigan, indicating that salamanders are by no means a local menu.
During the summer of 1941 I had an opportunity to observe the food brought to the young throughout their life in the nest at Brunswick, Maine. The food was invariably held in the beaks of the adults so that it could be easily seen and often identified from the blind placed within 5 feet of the nest. The food the first three days consisted of small green larvae. During the first day the larvae were minced in the beak of the adult before they were delivered, and at other times the larvae if large would be divided in two by each of the pair of birds grasping an end of the worm and pulling until it parted. On several occasions larvae too large for the young to negotiate after they were thrust into the extended mouths were swallowed by the parent. After the third day winged insects, spiders, and ants were added to the diet. On the seventh and eighth days large moths, grasshoppers, and beetles were fed to the young without any mincing or tearing apart. During the many hours spent in the blind I did not see fruit, berries, or vegetable matter delivered to the young, but Henry R. Carey (1925) reports that fruit including blueberries and wild cherries was delivered to the young of a nest observed in the Pocon o Mountains of Pennsylvania.
Daniel E. Owen (1897) kept a young hermit thrush in captivity from the time it left the nest on June 26 until July 31. During this period of about five weeks be made interesting observations on its behavior and especially of its food habits. Mr. Owen substituted its usual food with raw beef cut into bits about one centimeter long by half a centimeter wide. To facilitate swallowing the pieces of meat were dipped in water. On June 28 between 8 A. M. and 7 i’. M. it was fed eight times and swallowed 27 bits of meat. After July 4 be weighed the bird’s food as well as the bird itself. The bird’s average weight during five days was 27.7 grams and the average weight of the meat eaten daily was 13.56 grams, indicating that it ate about 50 percent of its weight in meat. He experimented with earthworms and found that the thrush ate 19 worms between 8:30 A. M. and 1 pï M. He noted that worms from a dung heap were frequently rejected, whereas worms taken from cool black garden mold were eaten with a relish. The thrush ate 9 grams of worms an hour, so at this rate it would not take more than a few hours for it to eat its own weight in worms. Experiments were made to determine the time required for the food to pass through the alimentary tract by the use of blueberries, which dyed the bird’s excretions. Only half an hour was required, which explains the enormous capacity the birds have for food.
Behavior: H. R. Ivor (1941 and 1943) has observed the peculiar behavior of “anting” in many species of birds, including the hermit thrush. In “anting” the birds seize the ants and place them in their feathers, usually under the primaries of the wings. They may also crush the ants with their bills and rub the juices on the feathers, or the birds may dust themselves in anthulls. Various theories have been advanced to explain this behavior: The ants are placed among the feathers to drive out ectoparasites; the bird anoints its feathers with the formic-acid secretions of the ant to repel ectoparasites; the bird eats the ants for the formic acid, which may be beneficial as a medication to increase muscular energy or to expel endoparasites; the bird places the ants in the feathers to have a reserve food supply during migration. These and other suggestions have been made. Further observations and study of this behavior will be required to enable us to interpret the true biological significance of “anting.”
Voice: As a boy living in central Illinois I knew the hermit merely as the thrush with the reddish-brown tail, and in those days I never heard its exquisite song as it passed through that part of the State on its way to and from the nesting grounds. It uttered nothing more than a protesting quoit or chuck when we intruded upon its transitory haunts in the few scattered wooded areas of that prairie section. It was not until I came to Maine to live in the midst of its breeding area that I fully appreciated this aristocrat of the bird world. In Maine this gifted songster is at its best soon after its arrival during the last week of April. At this season any visit during the early morning or evening hours to a particular evergreen forest traversed by a cool meandering trout stream is certain to be rewarded by the superb performances of this prima-donna songster. Indeed, the hermit has been given the tribute of being the most gifted songster in North America, and its song has often served as the inspiration for poetic writers.
M. Chamberlain (1882) described his impressions of the song of the hermit thrush as he heard it near St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, as follows:
The music of the Hermit never startles you; it is in such perfect harmony with the surroundings it is often passed by unnoticed, hut it steals upon the sense of an appreciative listener like the quiet beauty of a sunset. Very few persons have heard him at his best. To accomplish this you must steal up close to his forest sanctuary when the day is done, and listen to the vesper hymn that flows so gently out upon the hushed air of the gathering twilight. You must be very close to the singer or you will lose the sweetest and most tender pathetic passages, so low are they rendered-: in the merest whispers. I cannot, however, agree with Mr. Burroughs that he is more of an evening than a morning songster, for I have often observed that the birds in any given locality will sing ,nore frequently and for a longer period in the morning than in the evening. I prefer to hear him in the evening, for there is a difference; the song in the morning is more sprightly: a musician would say “has greater brilliancy of expression”: and lacks the extreme tenderness of the evening song, yet both have the same notes and the same “hymn-like serenity.” The birds frequently render their matinal hymns in concert and the dwellers in a grove will burst out together in one full chorus, forming a grander i’s Deurn: more thrilling: than is voiced by surpliced choir within cathedral walls. On one occasion an Indian hunter after listening to one of these choruses for a time said to me, “That makes me feel queer.” It was no slight influence moved this red-skinned stoic of the forest to such a speech.
Aretas A. Saunders, who has made intensive studies of many bird songs, has written his interpretations and analysis of the hermit’s song, in personal correspondence as follows: “The song of the hermit thrush is a long-continued one, made up of rather long phrases of 5 to 12 notes each, with rather long pauses. All the notes are sweet, clear, and musical, like the tone of a bell, purer than the notes of the wood thrush, but perhaps less rich in quality. The notes in each phrase are not all connected. The first note is longest and lowest in pitch, and the final notes are likely to be grouped in twos or threes, the pitch of each group usually descending. Each phrase is similar to the others in form but on a different pitch, as if the bird sang the same theme over and over, each time in a different key. If one listens carefully for each note, however, two different phrases are rarely exact duplicates in form, but slightly varied, a likeness to certain symphonies of some of the great composers.
“In records of 38 different individual birds the pitch ranges from F” to D#””, one tone less than two octaves. The average individual has a range of about an octave. In looking over my records it is quite apparent that birds in the Adirondacks have a greater range of pitch than those in Allegany State Park in southwestern New York. Most of my records come from those two localities. The Adirondack birds average two tones over an octave, and the Allegany Park ones nearly three tones less than an octave. The average bird, from my records, has six different phrases, but some have as few as three, several have nine, while one bird in Allegany Park bad 14.
“Nearly every individual has one or two phrases pitched considerably higher than the rest, and these very high phrases sound weak and of poorer quality than the others. This may be due, however, not to actual poorer quality but to man’s inability to perceive the overtones of the very high notes. It is the overtones that cause the poor or rich quality or timbre of a sound.”
Albert R. Brand (1938) writes that in his study of bird recordings on film it is revealed that certain high notes are inaudible to the human ear, and his field observations of certain birds including the hermit thrush seem to confirm the suspicion. lie states that he has observed birds singing nearby through field glasses, he has seen their bills open as if emitting notes, yet he heard no sound. Mr. Brand (1938) reports the lowest note recorded for the hermit thrush was 1,475 vibrations per second, the highest 4,375 vibrations, with an approximate mean of 3,000 vibrations per second.
Henry Oldys (1913), after describing the usual song of the hermit thrush and comparing it with the human voice, analyzes an unusual song in developing a theory of the independent evolution of bird song. \’Ir. Oldys heard the unusual hermit thrush song at Pompanoosuc, Vt., in which he noted a very perceptible normal order in the basal notes and their independent phrases, and that order made a harmonic progression such as completely satisfies the requirements of human music. He concludes “that the evolution of bird music independently parallels the evolution of human music and that, therefore, such evolution in each case is not fortuitous, but tends inevitably toward a fixed ideal.”
At Lost River, N. H., located in the midst of the White Mountains, both the hermit and olive-backed thrushes nest, and there I had an unusual opportunity to compare the songs and notes of these two songsters. The musical ability of the hermit is more varied than that of the oliveback. Its usual song dies out without the rising inflection of the latter and there is a pause after the first syllable, while in the oliveback’s song there is no pause and the second syllable is strongly accented, the whole song being quickly delivered.
The alarm notes of the two thrushes are also quite different. The ohiveback thrush when disturbed utters a metallic note, short and sharp, often ending in a querulous call. The alarm note of the hermit has a catbird quality about it, lower pitched and less metallic than that of the oliveback. The hermit has a nasal note of complaint uttered in two syllables, a chuck like that of the blackbird, and a lisp not unlike that of a cedar waxwing. The oliveback utters a similar nasal note, but it is more liquid in quality and the cluck of the hermit may be compared to the puk or pink of the oliveback. The lisp is peculiar to the hermit, while there is a queer multiple note of soliloquy peculiar to the oliveback.
Norman McClintock (1910) has recorded the various notes uttered by the hermit thrushes about a nest which lie observed at close range from a blind. He frequently heard a note resembling quirk or quoit, which was uttered when the birds were slightly suspicious or when they mildly protested against the presence of an intruder. A second note was a high-pitched, thin, and wiry call resembling a cedar waxwing’s note but pitched several tones higher. This note was used in warning the young of approaching danger. “To the little birds this call meant ‘freeze’.” MeClintock continues:
A third note, which this pair of Hermits used signified extreme distress. This note sounded to me much like the note of a hoarse Canary. I can best describe it by the word boyb, spoken slowly and with a rising inflection. The note also reminded me of a mew of a kitten. Boyb was uttered by the thrushes with tbe mandibles well open, whereas the Cedar-bird call was made with the mandibles almost closed.
Besides the three notes described, there was a much used conversational note that evidently contained no implication of suspicion or trouble and was a strong contrast with the several notes already described. It was an exceedingly soft and sweet little note that could be heard but a few feet, and which I can best describe by wee. Wee was used by the parents to each other and to the young. It seemed, however, to be mostly employed to herald to the young the parents’ approach with food. At a distance of six or eight feet from the nest a single wee from a parent would announce to the young the former’s proximity. As the parent hopped closer, the wees were rapidly repeated, wee-wee-wee-wee, and the nearer the parent came to the nest, the softer the wees were uttered, until they were faint whispers. To these trees the young responded, during their first days, by erecting their heads and opening wide their mouths; but later, when they became more mature, they would rise to their feet upon hearing the first wee and energetically beg for food. * * *
The fifth, and only remaining note, was one I heard but twice and both times it came from the male. It was an indescribable explosive twitter of ecstasy made with fluttering wings. I first heard it on August 3, immediately after the male had been singing for four minutes. On another day, it was uttered in the presence of the female, who was close by and towards whom it was directed.
According to Miss Cordelia Stanwood (1910) the fledglings give a clear sweet whistle, p-e-e-p, a soft, husky, breathing sound, pAce-p/tee, and occasionally pit-pit-pit!, an almost inaudible ventriloquial call.
The adults are also capable of a certain amount of ventriloquial power. Quite often when closely observing a hermit thrush sing while I was concealed in the blind only a few feet distant, the voice seemed to come from an individual located far away from the scene. The song probably could not be heard by an observer stationed 50 yards away. At such times the throat of the bird vibrates or pulsates but the mandibles are tightly closed, thus subduing the loudness and carrying power of the varied notes.
Horace W. Wright (1912) has made a study of the times of the awakening and the evensong of the hermit thrush. Out of a list of 57 species recorded the hermit took sixteenth place in order of the first voices heard early in the morning. Of 18 records of the hermit thrush the first song was 63 minutes and the latest initial song 45 minutes before sunrise. Of 55 species of birds studied for the latest evening song the hermit stands in fifty-first place. Out of 20 records the average number of minutes after sunset was 33, the latest final song 40 minutes after sunset, and the earliest final song 25 minutes after sunset.
The song season of the hermit thrush, unlike that of many of our song birds, is not limited to the time of the breeding season, but it is also in full song in its winter haunts in the south. Aretas A. Saunders (1929b) writes that he has heard the hermit commonly and in full voice in the pine forests of central Alabama. Otto Widmann (1907) in writing of the winter resident hermit thrushes of the peninsula of Missouri states: “He greets it with his most tender strains on his return in the fall, and sings aloud before he leaves it for the north.” Many other observers have had similar experiences, of hearing the full song of the hermit in their winter haunts although this bird does not sing during its migration journey.
XV. DeW. Miller (1911) observed 12 hermit thrushes which wintered in a grove of red cedars, in a sheltered valley near Plainileld, N. J., where there was an abundance of food in the berries of the flowering dogwood. He writes ~ * * * heard three distinct call-notes from these birds, one, of course, the familiar low blackbird-like chuck. The two other notes do not seem to be commonly known, at least to those familiar with the bird only as a migrant. The first is a simple, high-pitched whistle, rarely loud; the second, a curious, somewhat nasal cry recalling the unmusical note of the veery.
The Hermit Thrush seldom sings while with us in the spring, and the song is so low as to be inaudible if one is more than a few yards from the singer. On March 19, I was agreeably surprised to hear four or five of these thrushes singing through most of the afternoon, though it was raining at the time. The song of only one bird, however, was of sufficient volume to be heard at any distance.
Enemies: The hermit thrush is subject to the usual enemies such as snakes, foxes, weasels, and skunks that molest ground-nesting birds. The domestic cat, which is so destructive to birds that nest about or near human dwellings, is less of a factor in the life of a bird that usually nests in remote situations seldom visited by cats. The stomach examinations of hawks and owls reveal that the hermit sometimes falls a victim to these predators.
Few birds are more valiant in resisting attacks on their brood and capable of creating a greater hubbub over the presence of marauders. Such an occasion invariably attracts other birds of the vicinity, adding a veritable chorus of protests. The parent birds, very tense, with crests erect, swoop and dash fearlessly, sometimes venturing so close that their wings strike the intruder. More often than not they are successful in driving the enemy to cover.
As is true with many birds, the hermit thrush is subject to infestation by a number of external parasites. Under ordinary conditions none of them prove fatal to the bird, but some of them may be very annoying to the host when they become abundant. Harold S. Peters (1936) has reported three species of lice, Degeeriella eustigma (Kellogg), Myrsidea incerta (Kellogg), and Philopterus sub flavescens (Geoffroy); two species of bird flies, Ornithoica con fluenta Say and Ornithomyja anchineuria Speiser; two ticks, Amblyomma tuberculatum Marx and Hasmaphysalis leporis-palustris Packard; and the mite Trombicula whartoni Ewing. In addition to the above Peters (1933) also reported the tick bodes brunneus Koch as a parasite of the hermit thrush.
According to Herbert Friedmann (1929) the hermit thrush is a very uncommon victim of the cowbird, and at the time of writing he knew of only six definite records, Contrary to Friedmann’s statement, I have found it to be a frequent victim. I have seen fewer than 15 nests of the hermit thrush, yet four of these were parasitized by the cowbird. On May 31, 1920, I found a nest near Brunswick, Maine, that contained three eggs of the hermit thrush and two eggs of the cowbird. This nest was destroyed by some predator a few days later. On July 8,1928, a nest containing three eggs of the hermit thrush and one egg of the cowbird was found at Douglas Lake, northern Michigan. In this nest the cowbird hatched first and continued to thrive until it left the nest. Two of the eggs of the hermit thrush hatched, the third was sterile. Both of the two hermits were also successfully reared. On July 6,1928, also at Douglas Lake, Mich., I found a nest containing two eggs of the hermit thrush and one egg of the cowbird. On July 12 the cowbird egg hatched, followed a day later by the hatching of one of the thrush eggs; the other thrush egg was sterile. The thrush and cowbird competed for food, but the cowbird proved more aggressive and maintained its lead in size throughout the nesting period. On July 19, when the cowbird was seven days old and the hermit six days old, there was a marked difference in weight and size and relative development of the feathers. By July 25 both the cowbird and thrush had left the nest. The adult hermit was seen feeding the cowbird nearby, but the young hermit was not seen, although I have no reason to believe that it perished.
A fourth nest of the hermit thrush parasitized by the cowbird was found at Topsham, Maine, on June 6,1941. This nest contained two eggs of the hermit thrush and two eggs of the cowbird. No opportunity was presented to visit this nest a second time.
In addition to enemies and parasites the hermit thrush is subject to many hazards especially during the migration season. Along the coast of Maine the lighthouses exact their toll of these birds especially during the heavy fogs and storms which often prevail during that season of the year. Mention has already been made elsewhere of the destruction to the earlier migrants, which succumb to sudden excessive cold waves and late snowstorms, especially when the available food is covered by a deep fall of snow.
W. E. Saunders (1907) records a fall migration disaster in western Ontario as follows:
The early days of October, 1906, were warm and damp, but on the 6th came a north wind which carried the night temperature down to nearly freezing. Near there it stayed with little variation until the 10th, * * * the north wind brought snow through the western part of Ontario. At London there was only 2 or 3 inches, which vanished early next day; and the thermometer fell to only 32 degrees on the night of the 10th, and to 28 on the 11th, but ten miles west, there was 5 inches of snow at S p~ M. Oct. 10, and towards Lake Huron, at the southeast corner, between Goderich and Sarnia, the snow attained a depth of nearly a foot and a half, and the temperature dropped considerably lower than at London. On that night, apparently, there must have been a heavy migration of birds acrosa Lake Huron, and the cold and snow combined overcame many of them, so that they fell in the lake and were drowned.
Along the shore of the lake near Port Franks there were an estimated 5,000 dead birds to the mile along the beach. On the beach south of Grand Bend, Mr. Saunders counted 1,845 dead birds, including 20 hermit thrushes, in a relatively short time. On the beach at Sable River he found the dead birds even more numerous than at Grand Bend, the site of the above census. Mr. Saunders states that the bulk of the hermit thrushes had already passed by on October 6, yet they were well represented among the dead birds found.
Winter: More than in the case of the other thrushes a considerable number of individual hermits spend the winter months in regions well noi th of the well-established winter range of the species. In correspordence from E. M. S. Dale he states that it is not unusual for the hermit thrush to winter in Ontario. He mentions one individual in particular that lived through the winter of 1941: 42 at London, Ontario. It fed on currants supplemented by gleanings of suet and other food from the food shelf of the chickadees and downy woodpeckers. Its favorite spot was a corner of the front veranda, sheltered by a discarded Christmas tree, in the lee of which the currants were placed. It disappeared when the spring brought others of its kind on their journey north.
There are numerous winter records of the hermit thrush in southern New England, where it has been reported in favorable situations throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut even at times when it was very cold and the ground covered with snow. It has also been reported from various sections of New York and New Jersey during the winter months. South of this area it is a regular winter resident.
In South Carolina, according to A. T. Wayne (1910), the hermit arrives by October 23 and remains until the second week of April. The birds are not abundant until the midcUe of November, when they are apparently settled for the winter. Contrary to reports of the wintering hermits in New England, Mr. Wayne states that the species cannot endure a sudden change of weather, especially if very low temperatures prevail for even a few days, as great numbers perished on February 13 and 14, 1899. During January and February 1895, hundreds succumbed to cold weather, although the food supply was plentiful. Mr. Wayne states that the hermit is the least shy of the thrushes and can be readily approached within a few feet, especially during cold weather. According to W. P. Wharton (1941) the hermit has a strong tendency to return to the same winter quarters. Of 81 of the birds he banded at Summerville, S. C., he had 10 returns, or 12.34 percent.
In Florida, according to A. H. Howell (1932), the hermit is a common winter resident in the northern and central parts of the State but rare in the southern part. He states further: “During the winter season, these Thrushes inhabit thick hummocks and the borders of wooded swamps. [In many parts of the south because of this characteristic habitat the hermit is known as the ‘swamp sparrow’ or ‘swamp robin.’] While not particularly shy, the birds are so quiet and retiring in disposition that they attract little attention as they feed on or near the ground.”
In the Middle West there are winter records of the hermit thrush foi Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, the majority from the southern sections of these States. In the winter of 1906: 07 I found the hermit to be a very abundant bird in the wooded river bottoms of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in southern Illinois. Otto Widmann (1907), in writing of the wintering birds of the Peninsula of Missouri, states: “It is seldom heard to sing in transit, but may be heard in its winter home, where it frequents the same swampy ground as the winter wren adjoining the drier haunts of the fox, white-throated and other sparrows.” The hermit is very abundant in the Mississippi River Valley south of Missouri, but the majority pass southward in October and northward in April.