The Hermit Thrush
“Ever since I entered the woods, even while listening to the lesser songsters, or contemplating the silent forms about me, a strain has reached my ears from out of the depths of the forest that to me is the finest sound in nature –the song of the hermit thrush.”
— John Burroughs from Wake-Robin 1871
John Burroughs was not alone in his appreciation of the Hermit Thrush song, a flute-like whistle followed by a series of ethereal bell-like ascending and descending tones. Unfortunately Mount Auburn visitors seldom hear this beautiful song on its migration north in the spring. The first birds appear in the Cemetery by mid-April and peak by the first week of May and at this time have a very quiet song which they sing very early in the morning or just as the sun sets in the evening. To hear these birds you must visit their breeding territories.
The Hermit Thrush is one of the most widely distributed forest-nesting migratory birds in North America and is the only one of the spotted thrushes that winter here in the northern states – changing their diet from insects to berries and buds. It is the fall and early winter when an encounter with a Hermit Thrush at Mount Auburn can be very satisfying.
The Hermit Thrush was named for its shy retiring ways but in the fall and winter it can be coaxed into view by “spishing” – which is making sounds that some say resemble alarm calls. Spishing and imitating a Screech Owl will also produce a flock of curious birds. The Hermit Thrush will first be detected as it scolds you with a soft “tchupp” note. The Hermit is easily identified from the other brown spotted thrushes by its gray-brown back and its habit of slowly raising its contrasting rufous tail as it also opens and closes its wings on a nearby perch.
Look for the Hermit Thrush at Mount Auburn in or near any fruiting trees – they especially like holly trees and some viburnums. At times they can be seen competing with Robins in the two Cork Trees at Halcyon Lake.