This medium-sized thrush is 6-7 inches long with a brown back and 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. 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 breed across the mountain west, up into Canada and Alaska, and are found year-round in southern New Mexico and Arizona, and along the northwest coast. Both parents will feed nestlings and they may produce two broods in a season. They winter in southern states and Mexico.
Hermit thrushes, like all thrushes, spend a lot of time foraging on the ground, where they take insects and other arthropods, as well as a variety of berries. They will perch in trees and 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 distance 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 vulnerability 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 juvenile 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 by James Taulman taken with a Nikon P900 camera.