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Veery

Catharus fuscescens ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TURDIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

This small forest thrush gets its name from the cascade of “veer” notes that make up its ethereal, reedy song—a common sound at dusk and dawn in summer in the damp northern woods. Most Veeries are a warm cinnamon brown above, with delicate spots on the throat; though far northwestern and northeastern populations are darker brown. These birds hop through the forest understory as they forage for insects and fruit. They spend winters in South America.

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Keys to identification Help

Thrushes
Thrushes
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Veeries are medium-sized thrushes—smaller than an American Robin but similar in shape. They have a plump body, round head, a straight, narrow bill, and fairly long wings and legs.

  • Color Pattern

    Most Veeries are uniformly bright cinnamon-brown above with indistinct spotting on the chest and pale underparts (see Regional Differences for exceptions). The throat is white with a buffy-orange cast.

  • Behavior

    Veeries are inconspicuous forest birds except for their beautiful downward-spiraling song, which they give often in late spring and summer, especially at dusk and dawn. They forage on the ground and logs for invertebrate prey, somewhat in the manner of American Robin or Hermit Thrush, peering around, then moving a short distance and repeating the process. You may also hear their distinctive, scolding call note, a harsh ‘veerr’ usually given from a hidden nook.

  • Habitat

    Veeries breed in rich deciduous woodland and forest with well-developed understory across northern North America. Wintering birds select the same habitat structure in the tropics. On migration, you might encounter the species in nearly any woodlot or other treed habitat.

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Similar Species

Similar Species

Veeries are one of the more easily recognized thrushes in the genus Catharus because of their uniformly warm brown upperparts, indistinct spotting, and fairly plain faces with very little eyering. Hermit Thrushes have a warm brown tail that contrasts with a duller brown back. They also habitually perform a frequent tail-lift, quickly raising the tail and slowly lowering it; no other Catharus thrush does this. Swainson’s Thrushes are typically darker olive-brown on the back and tail (except on the West Coast), and they have a bold face pattern with a large buffy eyering and bolder, better defined spots on the breast. Gray-cheeked Thrushes (and the very similar Bicknell’s Thrush) are grayer brown overall, lacking the Veery’s warm reddish-brown tones. The Wood Thrush is bigger and plumper than a Veery, with much bolder spotting on the chest and belly. Brown Thrashers are considerably larger and lankier, with a longer bill, longer tail, yellow eyes, and extensive black streaking below.

Regional Differences

Veeries breeding in Newfoundland and the far-western portion of their range tend to be darker brown above with more distinct chest spotting and darker lateral throat stripes. A very few may be as dark on the upperparts as Swainson’s Thrush or Gray-cheeked Thrush.

Find This Bird

Listen in late spring and summer, particularly early in the morning and near dusk, for the Veery’s haunting, downward-spiraling song emanating from rich woodland or forest. Upon locating one or more singing birds, walk slowly through the habitat, watching carefully for foraging birds on the ground or singing birds perched in the upper or mid-canopy. Listen for this bird’s frequent, harsh, veer calls, almost as if it is hinting its name to you.

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All About Birds Blog, ID Workshop: Use 4 Basic Keys Plus Migration Timing to Sort Out Your Thrushes, April 2014.