Wood Thrush & Veery
Of the breeding birds of our area, probably the two most accomplished singers are the Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) and the Veery (Catharus fuscescens). These species are both brownish, secretive thrushes that mostly stay in the shadows of the woods, but reveal their presence by their lovely, melodic songs. The voice box in birds (the “syrinx”) is two-parted, which in both these species enables a singing male to produce two different notes at once, giving him the ability to harmonize with himself.
The Wood Thrush prefers extensive woods with a thick understory of shrubs and young trees (a dwindling habitat in our area because of massive overbrowsing by deer), where it forages for small invertebrates. Its upperparts are a rich chestnut brown, the underparts are white, with extensive black spotting extending from the throat down the entire length of the belly.
The Wood Thrush winters in southern Mexico through Central America, and deforestation in these areas has resulted in a steady decline in the numbers of birds returning to us each spring. The fragmentation of forest habitats in the United States has also contributed to its decline.
The Veery is slightly smaller than the Wood Thrush, with upperparts a uniform warm reddish-tawny color, and underparts white, with the breast speckled lightly with spots of the same tawny color as the upperparts. This species inhabits more upland forests with a dense understory. The Veery’s song is perhaps not quite as melodic as its larger upland relative, still it gives an extraordinary musical performance with an ethereal quality all its own.
The Veery migrates all the way to southern Brazil, where until recently the habitat has been largely undisturbed. However, previously uncultivatable areas are being opened to agriculture, which likely bodes ill for Veery wintering habitat in the future and for one of the most evocative sounds of summer in our part of the world.
Both the Wood Thrush and Veery need unfragmented forest habitat to thrive and survive. Support forest conservation to protect these harbingers of spring.