Four Birds and Who They Are

Top Photo: December 2022, what bird is this?

Note thrush bill, reddish tail (December).

The photo above depicts a hermit thrush. The clues are there. You should be able to tell from the shape of the bill that the bird is a thrush, at the very least, not a sparrow. Though you’re viewing the bird from behind and below, and mostly see the belly and undertail coverts, you can also see, at minimum, half of the tail. Along the outer edges of the tail you can see the tail feathers are reddish or rust-colored. Not enough?

As mentioned in the photo’s caption, it’s winter. In the east, other than a bluebird or robin, the only other thrush likely to be seen is a hermit thrush. To be sure, wait, the bird with either fly off, in which case you may never know what it was, or it may turn around and present more of itself to you. If it does the latter, grab all the clues you can and ID the bird.

A better view of hermit thrush.

Note the rusty tail, and, though there are streaks on the throat and upper breast area, there are no streaks on the back, sides or belly of the bird.

The bird below had me fooled for a brief second or two. The big black spot on its chest is not typical. Adult males have extensive black on their breasts in breeding plumage, but this, again, is December.

“Spot-breasted” warbler.

Everything else about the bird says yellow-rumped warbler, the streaking on the breast and flanks, the yellow spots on the sides, and in the photo below you can get a small, very small (admittedly, tiny) glimpse of the yellow rump on the bird.

Streaked back and sides, yellow spot on side of breast, and yellow-rump (arrow).

The next bird is a small, brown species that likes to forage down in the leaf liter among the roots of trees along streams and rivers, or in thick underbrush. Though not rare, finding one can sometimes be needle-in-a-haystack difficult.

Tiny, secretive bird of winter here on piedmont.

And then, they sometimes seem to pop up out of nowhere.

The short tail and dark streaking on the belly help to ID this bird from the rear.

From the front, the stubby little tail and dark markings on belly in addition to the inconspicuous line over the eye (not bright white, broad or bold), and of course, small overall size make this a winter wren.

Winter wren.

Finally, as you know from the hermit thrush above, even a bad view of a bird can offer clues and reveal its identity. The streaked back and sides and overall red-brown coloration, especially on the tail of the bird below, means fox sparrow. Though hermit thrushes have red-brown tails, they lack the streaked back and heavily streaked sides visible on this badly photographed and slightly out of focus bird (below).

A streak-backed, rust-tailed sparrow.

From the front you can see the heavy streaks continuing across the bird’s undersides. The conical sparrow bill, gray on face and sides of neck and rusty tail all combine to nail it for eastern race of fox sparrow.

Heavy streaks across front.
Reddish tail and wings, heavy streaks, gray on side of neck and face.

There’ve been fox sparrows singing each morning in the woods between the Sailboat Pond, Into the Mist, and Lemur House, mostly in the morning. While I’ve only managed to see two of them, Ranger Dakota has comfirmed at least three of the large sparrows.

If you don’t at first hear the clear whistled notes, look for a group of white-throated sparrows. The two species seem to be sharing company (the white-throated’s song is a blurry, slurry whistled tune).

Both sparrows tend to stick close to the ground and feed by kicking away the leaf liter in a somewhat awkward looking two-footed style on the forest floor to reveal insects and other invertebrates, fruits, or seeds.

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