This medium-sized thrush is 6-7” long with wingspan of up to a foot across. The back is brown to olive, with a rusty brown tail. The white breast is offset by dark brown spots. Juveniles show a white mottling over the brown head and back, as well as more dark spotting and streaking on the breast and belly.
The breeding range encompasses most of Canada and into Alaska, extending down the mountain west states through Colorado and into Arizona and New Mexico. They prefer coniferous forests where they will build a cup nest either on the ground or up to 12 feet in a tree. The nest is constructed of a variety of available materials, including weeds and twigs, ferns, pine needles, and moss. Hermit thrushes are found year-round in southern New Mexico and the mountains of southeastern Arizona and along the northwest coastal forests. Both parents will feed nestlings and they may produce two broods in a season. They migrate, spending winters in the gulf coast states of Texas and the southeast states and down throughout Mexico.
Hermit thrushes, like all thrushes, spend a lot of time foraging on the ground, where they take insects and other arthropods, such as spiders, earthworms, and sometimes small amphibians. Their diet also includes a variety of berries, such as elderberries, serviceberries, grapes, and others. They will perch in trees and sometimes silently watch you walk by and if you haven’t seen them fly up from the ground they are easy to miss. They commonly bob the tail and flick the wings as they sit on a perch. The song is distinctly heard at a distant and has a wonderful, haunting and ethereal quality, giving the forest a kind of mystical feel. It is one of my favorite bird songs and takes me back to my youth hiking the forests of the Washington Cascades, where I first heard it.
The Audubon Society reports the current viability status of Hermit thrushes as stable, but predicts that global warming will result in considerable habitat losses and increasing vulnerability, primarily throughout their range in Canada. The birds photographed here were in the Cibola National Forest in the Manzano mountains, along trail 78 near the 4th of July campground. This is the only part of the forest where I regularly hear hermit thrushes, though I imagine they occur widely throughout the higher coniferous forests of New Mexico. Photos taken by James Taulman with a Nikon P900 camera.