There is a large family of birds (over 300 species) known as the Thrushes. In North America, 19 species can be found, but here in the Midwest we’re limited to six species.  One member of this family is most likely the first bird that we as children learn to identify and name.  That would be the American Robin. Other members of the Family include the

An American Robin getting breakfast

An American Robin getting breakfast


Some say that the song of the Wood Thrush is the most beautiful bird song in North America, while others say it is the Swainson’s Thrush. Still others believe the singing of the Hermit Thrush is the most melodious.  The reason these birds are able to create such a beautiful sound is due to special double voice box, called the syrinx. This means a thrush can create notes independently and simultaneously from each half of its syrinx, blending them into a harmonious flutelike sound.

These birds are mainly found in forests.  While bluebirds can be seen flying over fields, their original nesting sites would have been in the cavities of trees.  Today, we offer them special nest boxes, knowing that the availability of natural cavities in dead trees are greatly reduced as forests have been lost to agriculture and suburban sprawl

Robins are the first to return to northern Minnesota and some come very early, taking a chance that the weather will not prohibit them from finding food.  If  they’ve been feeding well on their trip north, than chances are good they have built up a supply of fat on their bodies that will help them through a short time of hardship. Their diet is about half animal matter in the form of worms, weevils, beetles, grubs, grasshoppers and crickets. The other half consists of vegetable matter – mostly fruit.  So if the bugs and worms are temporarily indisposed, the robins can still seek out what is left of crab apples, or wild berries that might remain on the Virginia creeper or sumac bushes.

This morning I watched a robin probing the ground under our wild bird feeder. This would be a good place to find insects hiding underneath the hulls of the black sunflower seed hulls that litter the ground.

The Hermit thrush, which is three to four inches smaller than the robin, has a conspicuously rusty colored tail on an otherwise olive brown body. It also has a mixed diet, similar to its cousin the robin.  While I’ve never heard a

Some call the Hermit Thrush the American Nightingale

Some call the Hermit Thrush the American Nightingale

nightingale sing, since they are a European bird, literature has long used this bird to epitomize the most beautiful of voices. Some people call the Hermit Thrush, the American Nightingale

For my money, it is the Wood Thrush that has the most beautiful song. It is most often heard around dusk. Many birdwatchers come up with sayings to help them remember the song of a particular bird, like “Drink Your Tea” for the Rufous Sided Towhee. One translation of the Wood Thrush’s song goes, “Lee-o-lay-o-lee, will you come live with me, away high in a tree?”  It takes a good imagination to hear that phrase, but it is indicative of  the flutelike sound of three to five phrases that travel upward and end with a variable trill. Each male has over 50 distinct song

The Wood Thrush - Magical music in the forest

The Wood Thrush – Magical music in the forest

patterns that it can use; some learned by listening to others of their kind.  All of them create a singular ethereal concert that floats through the forest. 

Four of the Thrush mentioned above build their nests above ground, but the Veery and the Hermit Thrush build theirs on the ground.  This makes them more vulnerable, especially as our forests become more fragmented, allowing for raccoons, feral cats and other predators to find them.  All of These beautiful songbirds need our help to survive into the future.  The best way is to defend forestland whenever possible and plant trees if you are able.  Our world needs their music.

By Kate Crowley