Friday, June 11, 2004
Other Names: Wilson's Thrush, Willow Thrush (in West).
When and Where Heard: Singing and calling from a maple swamp off Bingham Road and Concord Street, mid-May, early June.
Description: More often heard than seen. A shy thrush smaller than the Wood Thrush (Mosquito, 6/27/03). Cinnamon-colored back, whitish belly, faintly-speckled buffy breast.
Voice: Calls are rather harsh; the commonest is down-slurred: Veer, or Phew!
Song is downward spiraling, thin and even. The strange eerie sound is created by the bird equivalent of our larynx, called a syrinx, which is capable of making more than one tone at once (think of Pan Pipes). Veeries often sound like ventriloquists: closer or farther away than they really are. The best time to hear them is dusk. I have heard them in past years along Curve Street, North Road, and in the wet sections of the Estabrook Woods.
Although not as musical as the wood thrush song ("if you call that singing," said one early ornithologist about the veery), the song has had its admirers. "Music so devout and unostentatious as the veery's does not appeal to the hurried or the preoccupied," wrote Bradford Torrey in 1885, going on to compare it to the 17th century spiritual poetry of George Herbert: "uncared for by the world" in general.
Nesting: In Carlisle, veeries breed mainly in maple swamps. The female makes a bulky nest on the wet ground, using a small brush pile or building a thick leaf foundation to keep it dry. She may also nest in a low shrub, such as a blueberry bush.
The nest succeeds or fails depending on whether it's found by predators such as raccoons, foxes, skunks, snakes, and cats, and whether it's visited by brown-headed cowbirds, which lay their eggs in other birds' nests.
Food: Veeries feed on insects, spiders, slugs, centipedes, and other small invertebrates, hopping along the ground, often turning over leaves to find them.
During fall migration (late August and early September,) they eat a lot of berries. I once watched a migrating veery pick a highbush blueberry clean. On the wintering grounds in tropical South America, fruit is also a major part of their diet.
Conservation: The veery is declining through much of its range, although not as severely as the wood thrush. In our town, development, causing fragmentation of swamps and woods by houses, lawns, roads, and driveways, contributes to fewer numbers. Also, veeries have a preference for young second-growth trees, which are becoming scarce because our woods are maturing.
References: Life Histories of North American Thrushes, Kinglets, and Their Allies by A.C. Bent (l949); Cornell Lab of Ornithology's A Land Manager's Guide to Improving Habitat for Forest Thrushes (2004).
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito