Varied Thrush

The Varied Thrush is a migratory bird that breeds in Western Canada and Alaska. It stays year-round in Washington State and migrates to Oregon and California.

Varied Thrushes are songbirds with large heads, straight bills, and long legs. Usually seen standing horizontally on the ground or in a tree, they have a short tail. Their length is 7.5-10.2 in (19-26 cm), their weight is 2.3-3.5 oz (65-100 g),and their wingspan is 13.4-15.0 in (34-38 cm).

Male Varied Thrushes are dark blue-gray on the back and orange below with a black breastband and orange line over the eye. The wings are black with two orange bars and orange edges to the flight feathers. Females have the same patterns, but are paler than males.

Varied Thrushes hop on the ground or low in shrubs and trees. They eat mainly insects in the summer and switch to nuts and fruit in fall and winter. On breeding grounds, male Varied Thrushes sit on exposed perches to sing their songs.

Varied Thrushes breed in humid evergreen and mixed forests along the Pacific Coast. In the winter, many move into dense parks, gardens, and backyards.

During breeding season, Varied Thrushes eat insects; in winter they eat mostly berries and nuts. They forage by getting dead leaves in their bill and hopping backward to clear a spot of ground before looking at it for prey. In fall and winter, they switch to fruits and acorns, forming flocks around their food. Some of their typical fruits are snowberry, apple, honeysuckle, madrone, mistletoe, manzanita, toyon, ash, salal, cascara, dogwood, blueberry, huckleberry, salmonberry, and thimbleberry.

Varied Thrushes forage on the ground, sometimes moving to higher perches to sing or move between foraging sites. Males reach the breeding grounds before females and start singing to get territories. They have several threat displays, beginning by cocking the tail, turning it toward an intruder, and lowering the wings. If the adversary remains, the displaying bird will face off, lowering its head, raising and fanning the tail, and spreading its wings out to its side. Occasionally, males peck at bills with each other. 

Females probably choose where to build the nest – usually in a mature forest, often in a spot surrounded by old nests (or even directly on top of one). They are usually around 10 feet off the ground and poorly concealed, close to the trunk of a small conifer.

The female gathers nest material and weaves an outer layer of fir, hemlock, or spruce twigs. She adds a middle layer with wood, moss, or mud, which hardens into a dense cup about 4 inches across and 2 inches deep. Finally, she lines the cup with fine grasses, soft dead leaves, and fine moss, and drapes pieces of green moss over the rim and outside of the nest.

Varied Thrushes are often aggressive to each other and other bird species. At feeders, males sometimes defend small feeding territories, where they dominate sparrows, blackbirds, cowbirds, towhees and juncos.

Varied Thrush Male and Female

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