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Science & NatureWhat is That?What is That … a Robin or a Thrush?

What is That … a Robin or a Thrush?


It seems like the right time of year to talk about American robins.  Thank goodness, the American robins are returning, and spring is just around the corner.  Although we never see this at the cottage, friends have reported great flocks of robins descending on their berry trees and bushes at this time of year.  At the cottage at Three Mile Bay, we tend to see single robins, not flocks.  But we know that where there is one, most likely we will see a second.  The quintessential early bird, robins are the largest member of the thrush family.  Thrushes are medium-sized birds, generally with spotted breasts and which tend to feed on ground insects.  We often see a robin walking with a regal, upright posture across what purports to be a lawn at the cottage, listening for insects and worms.  Although adult robins’ breasts are more of a solid red/orange, juveniles have spotted breasts, their nod to the thrush family.  In the first robin photograph of a juvenile robin, we can just see what remains of its spotted breast.  We love the second robin photograph in particular because it reminds us greatly of Bruno Mars whose music we love.  (This is a compliment to both the robin and to Mr. Mars.)

Sometimes, not often, we will see a hermit thrush on our cottage lawn.  The hermit thrush’s body shape is similar to that of the robin, but its breast spots are much more evident. It is a smaller bird than the robin, but like the robin it stands upright, often with the slender, straight bill slightly raised.  They walk along looking and listening for insects in a fashion similar to that of the robin.  Like other thrushes, the head is round and the tail fairly long.

This would be a good point to mention that most of our sources warn against the use of pesticides on the lawn, if you want to be kind to your robins and other lawn-feeders.  We never apply pesticides or fertilizers on our cottage lawn.  The most we do, well Bruce does really, is mow what grows in that open space between the cottage and the shore.  The cottage lawn is made up of primarily low, creeping thyme, ancient strawberry plants which yield strawberries one quarter of the size of a green pea, and other wild plants … dandelions of course.  The application of pesticides or fertilizers would also be bad for the lake.

The northern waterthrush is not a thrush.  It is a warbler.  Warblers are small(ish), song birds which also eat insects.  The northern waterthrush prefers to take its insect suppers from the ground in a manner similar to thrushes.  Perhaps this is why this warbler has been named a thrush.  We do not often see a northern waterthrush as they tend to stay in or near the marshy underbrush where they nest in upturned tree roots, so we become very excited when we do see one.

A great surprise during the summer of 2016 was Bruce’s capture (photographically speaking) of an ovenbird.  The ovenbird is another warbler that behaves like a thrush, spending much of its time wandering along the forest floor looking for insects in the leaf litter.  Its body shape is rather thrush-like too being chunky and somewhat larger than the average warbler.  Ovenbirds get their names from their dome-shaped nests which have side-door openings.  We have not been able to decide which rock star this ovenbird looks like and are open to suggestions.

We love all the thrushes and thrush-like warblers at the cottage.  After all, not only do they sing beautifully, they eat insects.  Any insect-eater is a friend of ours.

Our identifications and general information about the American robin, the hermit thrush, the northern waterthrush and the ovenbird lean heavily on Cornell’s website; Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds; and, Chris Earley’s Warblers of the Great Lakes Region & Eastern North America.


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