Varied thrush whistle means break time

Each day that slips by is full of projects that need to be started or finished. That old saw “the hurrier I go, the behinder I get” is all too real during the holidays. We not only need refreshing, energizing breaks, we need reminders to take them. A familiar whistle early one morning was just that. It focused my thoughts in another direction. Was it a varied thrush or was I just hoping?

This “Alaska robin” is a winter treat. If you live near a forest you might find them throughout the year, but they are easier to see in the winter. Feeders tempt them and so do trees and bushes where fruit still hangs. The berries found on hawthorns, holly and cotoneaster are winter food for these birds.

Unlike their cousin, the American robin, the varied thrush will dine on mixed bird seed. They prefer it scattered on the ground under shrubs or brush. These are birds whose preferred habitat is mature forests with dense undergrowth. They’re one of those birds referred to as “skulkers”: They don’t want you to see them and, if you do, pretend that you don’t.

When they show up under the feeders, you can be sure they will frequently cock their head to one side as if watching for movement in the window. They’re also looking for hawks overhead.

The varied thrush can be seen in Western Washington throughout the year but they move about. In the spring and summer, they are found in forested areas from sea level to the higher elevations. In winter, when snow pushes them toward lower elevations, they visit our yards. They’ll follow the natural food supply and take advantage of feeding stations.

This member of the thrush family may be seen in the same areas as robins but they really don’t associate with one another. In our yard, the robins dig in th lawn for worms, grubs and bugs of all description. They also toss leaves aside to do more digging in the flower beds. Varied thrushes feed in the same places but prefer to forage under the tall firs. They are sheltered by a planting of evergreen huckleberry, Oregon grape, hazelnut, elderberry, sword ferns and native rhododendrons.

Our waterfall and stream have matured to where native plants and ferns congregate along the water while moss covers most of the logs and rocks. Along with the sound of water, the overall look is what these birds seek out in forests along our major rivers. Even though we try to attract them by providing good habitat, the same question arises every winter. Will the varied thrush come? When winters are mild, we don’t see them. They may not be far, but they are finding everything they need in a nearby forest.

If winter is cold and, better yet, snow covers the ground, they appear. The yard comes alive when their haunting one-note whistle greets the morning. There’s more than one reason to look forward to snow during the holidays – after school is out and the shopping is done. There just might be a varied thrush or two under the feeders one morning to give us that mental break we need in December.

Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply.