Bird Bio

Bird Bio: Hermit Thrush

Look for the elegant Hermit Thrush in brushy areas and understory of forest. I consistently see Hermit Thrush at Hidden Lakes State Park in the wooded part of the trail back near the trail that leads to the “dance floor” on the hilltop. There is quite a bit of bush honeysuckle and vine honeysuckle in this area which provides a lot of food and dense cover.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Related Bird: Swainson’s Thrush. Click picture for more info.

Related Bird: Swainson’s Thrush. Click picture for more info.

Related Bird: Wood Thrush. Click on picture for more info.

Related Bird: Wood Thrush. Click on picture for more info.

The Hermit Thrush is mostly a buffy brown but has bold spots on the breast. It is distinguished from other thrushes by its reddish colored tail and distinctive white eye ring. If you see one look for its habit of flicking wings and tail pumping (click here for a quick video). This is the only thrush normally seen in the winter in North America. This is not a bird you can set out to attract. On occasion I have seen Hermit Thrush below my birdfeeders during wintery weather, perhaps picking up pieces of suet or bits of seed. Some customers have seen them attracted to live mealworms, too.


Those of you who truly love feeding birds understand how it enhances your life.

This Holiday Season consider giving the gift of birds to a youngster, friend or loved one needing an interest, or to someone you may know confined indoors.

The Wood Thrush Shop is offering a starter bird feeding kit for $39. The kit includes choice of hopper feeder, or Droll Yankee tube feeder, choice of Black-oil Sunflower, Safflower, or Woodland Blend 8# bag, and a Pocket Naturalist guide to Tennessee Birds.

These items regularly retail for $52.

Get someone started feeding birds and help them discover a whole new world right outside their door.

Choose between a hopper or tube style feeder, a bag of sunflower or safflower, and a Tennessee folding guide for $39.

Bird Bio: Fox Sparrow

Sparrows are a family of birds that the backyard birder tends to overlook. All sparrows seem to be lumped into the same vague description of “little brown birds that mostly stay on the ground”. Sparrows, though, are a pretty diverse group. Yes, they have many similarities but upon closer inspection you can see just how beautiful and varied they are. The Annotated Checklist of Birds of Tennessee recognizes 26 species of sparrows, 10 of which breed here. Many are considered rare, to uncommon, to seasonal, with few as year round residents. This time of year we see with regularity Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, and Juncos are included in the family, too. This week we’re going to focus on the Fox Sparrow. Last weekend I was birding at Hidden Lakes State Park on McCrory Ln and really had fun looking for sparrows in the lower meadow area along the Harpeth River. I got several good looks at Fox Sparrows as they darted from cover to cover feeding on native plant seeds.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

The Fox Sparrow is a large sparrow measuring up to about 7”, which is just a little smaller than a Northern Cardinal. It is recognized for its heavily streaked rusty colored breast, and a rufous, or orange-brown tail, which is more noticeable in flight. The rusty brown combined with gray around the neck gives it its foxy look. Its song is described by Peterson’s Field Guide as brilliant and musical; a varied arrangement of short clear notes and sliding whistles. Click on the picture above to hear their song and read more. Behaviorally it feeds similarly to the Eastern Towhee scratching with both feet on the ground while foraging. It is a very distinguishable hopping forward and back motion. Look for Fox Sparrows to appear on the ground below feeders during wintery, snowy weather. Millet is a food of particular interest to them. By April Fox Sparrows leave this part of the country to go back north to their breeding areas.

Bird Bio: Red-breasted Nuthatch

Male Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Females have browner caps and paler rusty underparts.

Hello backyard birders. The bird feeding action has gotten fast and furious with the onset of some cold, wintery weather. All over middle-TN there have been an abundance of great winter bird sightings. Pine Siskins and Purple Finch have arrived early and in good numbers. It is believed these species will show up here in greater numbers to spend the winter when certain food sources they require are lacking in more northern areas of the country. Look for them to go to feeders with sunflower, safflower, and finch feeders with nyjer or sunflower chips. The usual cast of winter characters is being seen around feeders as well. Look for White-throated Sparrow and Juncos feeding on the ground, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Kinglets and Brown Creepers showing interest in suet feeders.

The bird we are featuring this week, though, is the Red-breasted Nuthatch. I consider seeing this beautiful, busy little bird as a real treat. It’s not every winter they show up in this area but so far this year is showing a lot of promise.

The Red-breasted Nuthatch is smaller than the more common White-breasted Nuthatch, about 4.5” in length, and has a broad black line through the eye and a white line above it. Its call is higher and more nasal than the White-breasted and has been described as being similar to a tiny tin horn. They are considered common in areas with lots of pine and/or cedar trees, so if you have any pine and cedar close to your home be on the lookout for these great little birds. They have been seen recently all around Nashville visiting seed and suet feeders. There have been lots of posting about the Red-breasted Nuthatch in the Tennessee Birding Facbook group. If you haven’t visited this group it’s one way to keep up on new sightings.

New seed crop is now coming in our deliveries. I always look forward to the arrival of the new crop. The seed is very clean and has a fresh, earthy smell. See you soon.

Attracting Warblers

Fall is a Great Time to Garden for the Birds

Fall is the best time to plant and perhaps you are thinking about adding something to your landscape that appeals to birds and wildlife. Fantastic! Adding plants is a great way to attract birds of all kinds but especially those that do not regularly visit seed feeders. I’m referring to the small tropical birds known as Warblers. This diverse and beautiful group of birds goes unnoticed by many backyard birders because their yards don’t have the habitat appeal necessary to pull them in. Each spring Warblers migrate into and through TN on the way to their breeding destination. As they travel they are searching for food, water, and suitable, safe resting areas.

Native trees and shrubs are critical to attracting birds of all kinds and especially warblers. Native plants attract native insects, an important food source to migrating birds. In spring when leaves are first opening the first caterpillars begin hatching which is an abundant and important food source for all migrating birds. In early fall native trees and shrubs are producing fruit that will help fuel their migration back to the tropics. The fruit also attracts native insects which then become an important source of protein. You can’t go wrong planting natives because they are, typically, less susceptible to disease and insect problems.

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Here’s a short list of some of my favorite native plants and shrubs:

Devils Walking Stick, Berries

Devils Walking Stick, Berries

American Beautyberry

American Beautyberry

Serviceberry               Bottlebrush Buckeye            Devils Walking Stick

American Beautyberry  Redbud                                Dogwood

Hawthorn                       Persimmon                           American Holly

Winterberry                    Eastern Red Cedar               Mountain Laurel

Sumac                            Oak and Maple varieties       Viburnums

and there are so many more great plants to choose from.

But Warblers need water, too, and from my experience water is the x factor.  It is probably that my water source is very easy to see from in my home that I have seen more Warbler species there than anywhere else in my yard.  Bubbling, moving water is much more appealing than the standard pedestal type birdbath.  Keep the water moving in some way and birds will be drawn.  There are drippers and misters that run on water pressure provided by a standard outside faucet, and waterfall rocks powered by an electric pump that are quite effective at keeping water moving.  I recently hung a plastic jug with a pin hole above a standard pedestal birdbath.  When filled with water the jug will provide a steady drip for a few hours at a time.  The dripping and subsequent rippling effect is absolutely more appealing than a still source of water.

So, if making your yard more appealing to birds is on your mind think about native plants and water.  It is a combination that most definitely works.

For more information about native plants please take a look at the TN Native Plants Society website, www.tnps.org, or check out a local grower like Growild located in Fairview, TN. Their website is www.growildinc.com

Bird Bio: Blue Grosbeak

Male Blue Grosbeak

Male Blue Grosbeak

Female Blue Grosbeak.

Female Blue Grosbeak.

Now that fall migration is underway there will be many opportunities to see lots of different birds passing back through TN on their way to Central and South America.  The Blue Grosbeak is one of those birds and while not rare one usually has to put in a little leg work to find.  Unlike the Rose-breasted Grosbeak that regularly visits feeders in the spring and sporadically in the fall, the Blue Grosbeak rarely visits feeders.  In fact, we’ve only had a handful of reports of Blue Grosbeaks at feeders over the course of my 23 years at the store.  This is curious to me because both Grosbeaks seem to share similar food preferences. 

The Blue Grosbeak is about 7 ½” in length, a Cardinal sized bird. The male is a deep blue, similar to the Indigo Bunting, with a thick conical bill (slightly narrower than a Rose-breasted’s), and has broad, rusty brown wing bars.  They are commonly seen in or adjacent to scrubby fields and meadows.  Fields that have not been cut are more likely to produce these beautiful birds.  I have seen them on the Harpeth River Greenway, Hidden Lakes Park, and Gossett Tract. 

The female could easily be mistaken for a female cowbird.  Look closely for the soft brown plumage above and lighter brown below, with 2 buff wing bars.

Have the binoculars at the ready because the next 8 weeks will be full of nice surprises if you get out and look a little harder.  And in your own yard a good clean and consistently available water source can produce some very interesting visitors.

Next week more on hummingbirds and the hummingbird celebration taking place at The Warner Park Nature Center August 25th.