Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Thrushes
Nature Bulletin No. 263-A   April 1, 1967
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Birds of the Thrush Family, numbering some 600 species, are found all over the world with the exception of some of the Polynesian islands in the Pacific. It includes such famous European songsters as the song thrush, or mavis, and the nightingale; and the hermit thrush, the wood thrush, and the veery or Wilson's thrush of North America. Although many are inconspicuously marked with browns, buffs and grays, and so shy and retiring that they are seldom seen by the ordinary observer, this family also includes those brightly colored and friendly birds -- the robin and the bluebird -- both famous as harbingers of spring. The thrushes have inspired more sentimental writings, more lyrical poetry and purple prose, both good and bad, than any other group of birds.

The family has a distinguishing trait: the young all have spotted breasts, regardless of their adult plumage. This is especially noticeable in the robin and the bluebird, Generally, too, they have large eyes, rather long slender legs, and do not walk but hop along on the ground. Otherwise, they vary greatly. Some live and nest in trees, others on the ground, and others in rocky places. Some eat mostly fruits, others insects, and many eat both -- according to the season.

Our common robin was so named by the early colonists because it reminded them of the English robin redbreast, a bird about half as large, with a bright orange-red throat and breast, belonging to the warbler family. Our robin was probably a bird of the forests then, but now it prefers to live close to farmsteads, suburban homes, and even in crowded cities. He knows all the folks and we all know him. They hop about on our lawns and nest in all sorts of queer places, as well as in trees. Except during migrations, they are seldom in wild deep woodlands and are probably not as numerous as some other less familiar birds. Huge flocks winter in our southern states but many remain here, most of them hardy individuals from Canada, and these are the "first robins" gleefully reported each year.

V/hen we see the first bluebird, with his sky-blue back and reddish- brown breast, and hear his soft warbling to his duller-colored mate, we know that spring is near. Bluebirds may nest in a tree cavity made by some woodpecker, and will chip out their own cavity in a decayed limb, fencepost, or telephone pole but, like the wren, they will nest in bird houses, or even a rural mail box. Most thrushes' eggs are a greenish "robin's egg" blue but the bluebird's eggs are pale bluish-white. Unlike the robin, they are never destructive of fruit and berry crops.

Early each spring, in the Chicago region, the Hermit Thrush passes through on its way to our northern states and Canada where they nest on damp or swampy ground in remote deep woodlands. This shy secretive bird is also called the American Nightingale, or Swamp Angel, because of the singular beauty of its solemn flute-like song. Later, we see large numbers of the Olive-backed Thrust which nests chiefly in Canada, and smaller numbers of the Gray-cheeked Thrush on their way to northern Canada and Alaska.

The Veery, another shy ground-nesting thrush, is fairly common here and its unique song, of a tremulous but resonant quality, is often heard at twilight. The Wood Thrush, a handsome bird with heart-shaped spots on its white breast, is more friendly and more frequently seen. Its song is as beautiful as that of the hermit thrush. The brown thrasher, somewhat similar, is not a thrush. Chicago bird lovers were in a dither over the appearance, in one of the north shore suburbs this winter, of a Varied Thrush or Alaska Robin -- a bird of western North America.

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