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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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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
6.7–7.1 in
17–18 cm
Wingspan
11–11.4 in
28–29 cm
Weight
1–1.9 oz
28–54 g
Relative Size
Smaller than an American Robin; larger than a Song Sparrow
Other Names
  • Grive fauve (French)
  • Tordo rojizo (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Long thought to winter across the northern third of South America, but a recent study indicated that, in fact, the wintering grounds of the Veery are restricted to central and southern Brazil.
  • A study of migration using radio telemetry showed that the Veery can fly up to 285 km (160 mi) in one night, and that it can fly at altitudes above 2,000 m (1.2 mi).
  • The Veery’s scientific name reflects its vocal prowess as well as its plumage coloring. Catharus comes from the Greek katharos, for “pure”—probably a reference to the quality of its song. Fuscescens, from the Latin fuscus, means “dusky.”
  • Veeries and many other songbirds migrate long distances at night. Many of these migrants alternate flapping with coasting, but Veeries may flap continuously throughout an entire night’s flight. Their efficient wings carry them over longer transoceanic routes than other thrushes can manage, on relatively small stores of fat.
  • One place Veeries breed is in damp areas near beaver wetlands. As beavers make a comeback from extensive hunting, these wetlands are on the increase—possibly good news for Veery populations.
  • Brown-headed Cowbirds often lay their eggs in Veery nests. Veery parents tolerate (or don’t recognize) the interlopers’ eggs and young. In one encounter, adults even fought off a snake that had attacked a cowbird fledgling. Nesting in thorny shrubs may help protect against cowbirds.
  • The oldest known Veery—a banded female—was at least 10 years and 1 month old when researchers captured and released it in New Jersey in 1989.

Habitat


Forest

Veeries breed in dense, damp, mostly deciduous woodlands, often near rivers, streams, and swampy areas. Breeding habitat includes forests of oak, maple, cherry, aspen, birch, alder, spruce and fir, among other trees and shrubs. Veeries gravitate toward disturbed forests, where dense understory provides protected nest sites. During spring and fall migration, they favor forest edges and second-growth woodlands.

Food


Insects

Veeries eat mostly insects and other invertebrates during the breeding season; mostly fruit in late summer and fall. Prey include beetles, ants, wasps, caterpillars, grasshoppers, flies, bugs, and occasionally small frogs and salamanders. Fruits in the diet include juneberries, honeysuckle, strawberries, blackberries, wild cherries, sumac and dogwood fruits, blueberries, wild grapes, and elderberries.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–5 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.8–1 in
2.1–2.5 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.7 in
1.6–1.8 cm
Incubation Period
10–14 days
Nestling Period
10–12 days
Egg Description
Greenish blue, rarely spotted with brown.
Condition at Hatching
Eyes closed, mostly naked with scanty gray down on head and back.
Nest Description

The female constructs the cup-shaped nest over a period of 6–10 days while her mate guards the territory. She begins by creating a platform of dead leaves, to which she adds grapevine bark, weed stems, and wet, decomposed leaves. She lines the nest with rootlets and other fine fibers, continually shifting her position as she presses the material down to shape the nest evenly. The finished nest has an outside diameter of about 3-6 inches and an outside height of about 3.5-5.5 inches; inside, it’s about 2-3 inches in diameter and 1- 2.5 inches deep.

Nest Placement

Ground

Veeries usually build their nests on or near the ground, rarely higher than 5 feet up. The nest may rest in a clump of grass or other soft vegetation, on a mossy hummock, under brush and debris, or against a fallen trunk or branch. Some nests are found on high, dry hillsides.

Behavior


Ground Forager

Veeries forage mostly on the ground—moving in a rapid series of long hops; sometimes flipping over leaf litter with their bills to catch creatures hiding underneath. They also search through understory foliage, hunt from rock or log perches, and occasionally catch insects on the wing. They are strong, fast fliers that make quick trips between protected perches when necessary. Males arrive first on breeding grounds and begin defending territory against other males. They’re initially aggressive toward females as well, but after 3–4 days this transitions to courtship flights, culminating in bonding and mating. Rival males fight by raising their bills and snapping them forward, quivering a foot, freezing for a couple of seconds in an erect pose, and flicking wings and tail.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Though still common in northern woods, Veeries have had slow but significant declines over the last half-century. Overall they have declined by about 0.8 percent per year since 1966, and the decline has been twice that in the U.S., according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The overall annual decline translates to a total decline of 30 percent in that time. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 11 million, with 68 percent breeding in Canada and 32 percent breeding in the U.S. They rate an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. Possible causes of their decline may include the extremely rapid transformation of South American forests (winter habitat) to agricultural land. Some of the bird’s northern woodland breeding habitats are also being destroyed or fragmented—a process that not only diminishes breeding opportunities but also increases nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds. Clearing of the dense understory that Veeries prefer—along with increased understory browsing by growing populations of white-tailed deer—may also be detrimental.

Credits

Range Map Help

Veery Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Virtually the entire Veery population migrates from breeding grounds in Canada and the northern U.S., across the Gulf of Mexico, through the Yucatán Peninsula and Central America, to wintering grounds in South America.

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.