Thrushes – speckles and spots, or not

Learning to “bird” (i.e., spot birds and determine what species they are) is no easy matter. There are guides that have color-coded pages so you can begin by looking for birds that are primarily of the color of the one at which you happen to be looking, but then the females and males can differ greatly and the young can look very different from their parents, too.
Hermit thrush IMG_1357©Maria de Bruyn blogIf you can learn something about “families”, that will help you narrow down your search in other guides. So I began associating the family of thrushes with birds that have spotted breasts. I discovered that is true for some of the avian species that have the word thrush in their name, like the hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus) with its reddish tail and the wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina, below right) with a really beautiful song.

Hermit thrush IMG_1359©Maria de Bruyn blogwood thrush IMG_5416©Maria de Bruyn blog

Wikipedia says that a characteristic of this bird family is that most species are of a gray or brown color, often with speckled under parts. But you can’t count on that being a definitive trait. For example, the large brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum, below left) is not in the thrush family but its speckles and streaks are more than obvious. And the lovely little ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla, below right) with an orange stripe on its head looks similar to the hermit thrush but is actually a member of the warbler family.

brown thrasher IMG_8217©Maria de Bruyn resOvenbird IMG_0044© Maria de Bruyn blog

You can’t count on the name to help out either. The Louisiana waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla) is not a thrush at all but a somewhat larger warbler species that places its nest near water.

Louisiana waterthrush IMG_1260©Maria de Bruyn blog

American robin IMG_3049©Maria de Bruyn resOn the other hand, I was surprised to find out that American robins (Turdus migratorius) are thrushes. But then I saw that the young robins do have speckled breasts – very obvious on this one to the left.

And I learned that Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) are a thrush species, too – those spots are also evident in the young!

 

 

Eastern bluebird IMG_6155©Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird IMG_5850©Maria de Bruyn

It turns out that Eurasian (common) blackbirds (Turdus merula) are thrushes, too. The males, like this one seen in Switzerland, are all black but the females show some spotting.

Eurasian blackbird male 6 MdB blogEurasian blackbird female 3 MdBblog

Nevertheless, speckling and spotting are no clear-cut clues to thrushes and common names can be confusing and deceiving. Perhaps I should give up on examining bird breasts to help figure out what species they are. Enjoying the birds, their behavior and their appearance is a much better birding experience for me than aiming to become an identification or birding expert!

2 thoughts on “Thrushes – speckles and spots, or not

  1. You are doing pretty well at looking for the the bird spices. It’s hard for me to find out what they are especially all the small ones. They look similar and so small!

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    • I do get some help from birding colleagues from time to time, Malai. You’re right – some of the species look really really similar, not only for birds but for some types of insects, too. So I try to balance just the enjoyment of seeing and photographing them with the enjoyment of learning something new. Thanks for commenting

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