Bird Lady Blog

May 19, 2014

Birds of Contrast

ImageDuring a mid-September hike up to Crystal Point I spotted a Hermit Thrush.  This is a secretive bird of the woodlands  in Arizona as well all other states except Hawaii.   You will not find a Hermit Thrush at your feeders – you are going to have to go partly into the forest and watch for them or maybe you will find them in on your property if it is rather secluded.  In my case, I was about one-third the way up the trail to Crystal Point from the entrance off of Pinewood Boulevard in mid-September when I spotted a Hermit Thrush on my right.  (By the way, a big thanks to Munds Park Trail Stewards for all they work they do in keeping our hiking trails cleared and in such good condition!) 

The Hermit Thrush is a medium-sized thrush with black-spots on its white under parts, red to brown upper parts, and a white eye ring.  This bird is known for its beautiful song.  If you have a birding application or access to the internet, search on the bird’s name and find a site that has the Hermit Thrush’s song and then listen to it.  Its song has been described as “sweet, clear, and musical”.  The Hermit Thrush is a state bird of Vermont, and its song is featured in a Nintendo Wii game as well as an altered version in the Hunger Games film.  

On the opposite spectrum is the Great-Tailed Grackle, which is a large, noisy, gregarious bird found near open spaces with water and lawns.  They are now found extensively in the Phoenix metro area, primarily because humans have changed the desert to expansive lawns, golf courses, and parks with plenty of irrigation systems and ponds.  I was surprised to find them at the ponds of Pinewood Country Club because generally they are not found this far north.  They have been expanding their range, however, based on the accessibility of water and food associated with human development, and they are now seen in Flagstaff.  

The non-birder will identify these birds as “blackbirds”, and indeed the males are exactly that:  glossy, iridescent black with a blue-violet sheen.  The females are brown underneath with dull, black under parts.   Both sexes have distinctive yellow eyes and a long, large tail which at times looks like it is built vertically rather than flat and horizontal.  Great-tailed Grackles are noisy, and I can remember when we lived in the Arcadia area of Phoenix, for several winters we had 200 or more of these birds gathering in the oleanders next to our house to roost for the night.  They were so noisy!  If you return to the Valley for the fall/winter, look for these birds in your neighborhood or golf course.  


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