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Boston, Massachusetts - Thrush (sp) - ID help (1 Viewer)


Crazy Pigeon Lady
Boston, Massachusetts, USA - Thrush (sp) - ID help

On 4/10/2017 (mid-afternoon) I was sitting in the park behind my office building (on Lewis wharf in the North End) and doing some birding when I encountered a thrush that I struggled to ID.

For the time of year and area, the most obvious thing would be a Hermit Thrush but there were some key field marks that didn't seem quite right. (Sadly he/she was too shy so I couldn't get a picture)

Description from my notes that day:
-Larger than a Starling but smaller than a Common Grackle.
-Overall sleek and trim impression.
-Reddish brown back with white chest/belly.
-Tail slightly lighter and redder than body.
-Dark brown, bold, spots on breast. They extend down to the upper belly, getting lighter as they go down along the side to the flanks.
-Distinct lighter eye ring that blends into a light eye stripe toward the beak.
-Darker and denser spotting that almost creates lateral throat stripes
-Legs are light tan and thin
-Behavior is cautious. Bird spends over an hour scouring the area below the bushes and nearby grass for worms and insects. The whole time pausing every minute or two to look at me.
-Never made any calls nor did it sing while I was observing it.

So here's my quandary. It did have a more reddish tail but didn't seem to exhibit the raised tail posture indicative of the Hermit Thrush. The distinct eye ring/spectacles in addition to the throat spots and bold spotting from breast down to the flanks seem to suggest a Swainson's Thrush but I know that is rare for that location and time frame.

I sat there for over an hour observing the little guy, trying to figure out exactly what it was but eventually had to settle with 'I'm just not sure'. I did start to wonder if it was a hybrid, but from what I've read since then, those thrushes don't usually interbreed.

I'd be curious to know what people's thoughts are on the possible ID of my mystery thrush.

I was also curious to know, when trying to distinguish between a Hermit, Swainson's and Grey-Cheeked Thrush, (other than voice) are there any particular field marks or behaviors that I should look for in the future?

I want to get better with my field ID, so since that day, I've been trying to work on taking better notes and to start making more sketches to help remember the smaller details. Any pointers on that are welcome as well |=)|

Thanks everyone!
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Crazy Pigeon Lady
Just an idea - Brown Thrasher? Most thrushes would be rare this early.

I do agree that Thrushes are on the rare side but this one isn't the only one I've seen in the past few weeks. I came back a few days later and there was no sign of the one I'd seen but I spotted a Hermit Thrush darting about in the underbrush. He was a much easier ID. He didn't have any of unusual fieldmarks I noted on the bird in question so I'm confident that it was not the same bird. Only thing I can say is that these 'early birds' seem to like this park as a pitstop on their travels.


Speak softly and carry a long lens
-Tail slightly lighter and redder than body.

That's the easiest way to ID a hermit thrush. They're also the most likely this early.

Everything else you mention sounds like a thrush to me - I'm pretty sure you weren't seeing an ovenbird or waterthrush or thrasher. So hermit it is until proven otherwise.

Other than that:
Swainson's tends to have an overall buffy-yellow look to the face.
Grey-cheeked and Bicknell's plain grey or pale on face.
Hermit has a redder tail (and usually wingtips) than back, strong breast spots.
Wood thrush is like a backwards Hermit: redder head than back or tail, also extremely strong breast spots.
Veery a brighter brown overall on the back/head/tail, much fainter breast spots than, say, Hermit.

Unfortunately there's a lot of variability in breast spots and face pattern, so the ID is often very difficult. With a lot of practice you can sometimes spot differences in proportions, posture, and behavior, but those can be unreliable in the field. (Field guides sometimes mention tail flicking, for example, and indeed those species do it fairly reliably. But other species will do it often enough to be misleading, even though the guide won't mention it.)
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Crazy Pigeon Lady
Thanks everyone for your feedback! Definitely a challenging ID for me. I didn't expect so much variability in the Hermit Thrush so when that particular one seemed very different, I figured it must be something else. But Hermit Thrush makes sense given the reddish tail and frequency this time of year.

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