- 7.5–10.2 in
- 13.4–15 in
- 2.3–3.5 oz
- About the size of an American Robin; smaller than a Steller’s Jay.
- Grive à collier (French)
- Zorzal pechicinchado, Mirlo pecho cinchado (Spanish)
- Louis Agassiz Fuertes, a twentieth-century bird artist and friend of Cornell Lab founder Arthur Allen, described the Varied Thrush’s simple, contemplative song “as perfectly the voice of the cool, dark peaceful solitude which the bird chooses for its home as could be imagined.”
- Long-term data collected by participants of Project FeederWatch have shown that Varied Thrush populations go up and down on a 2-year cycle.
- Varied Thrushes are often aggressive toward each other and other bird species. At feeders, males sometimes defend small feeding territories, where they dominate sparrows, blackbirds, cowbirds, towhees and juncos. They usually defer to California Quails, Northern Flickers, Western Scrub-Jays, and American Robins. The only time Varied Thrushes flock with other species is when they occasionally forage for berries or earthworms on lawns with American Robins.
- The oldest Varied Thrush on record was a male, and 4 years, 9 months old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in California.
The Varied Thrush lives in dark, wet, mature forests in the Pacific Northwest. In its breeding range, which covers Alaska and tapers as it extends south to northern California, it inhabits forests dominated by coastal redwood, Sitka spruce, red alder forests, western hemlock, western red cedar, western larch, or Douglas-fir. In winter it may be found in a broader range of habitats, including parks, gardens, lakeshores, and riparian areas where fruit and berries are abundant.
During breeding season, Varied Thrushes eat insects and other arthropods from the leaf litter; in winter they eat mostly berries and nuts. They forage by seizing dead leaves in their bill and hopping backward to clear a spot of ground before examining it for prey. In fall and winter, they switch to fruits and acorns, forming loose flocks around their food. Some of their typical fruits are snowberry, apple, honeysuckle, madrone, mistletoe, manzanita, toyon, ash, salal, cascara, dogwood, blueberry, huckleberry, salmonberry, and thimbleberry.
- Clutch Size
- 1–6 eggs
- Number of Broods
- 1-2 broods
- Egg Length
- 1.1–1.4 in
- Egg Width
- 0.7–0.9 in
- Incubation Period
- 12 days
- Nestling Period
- 13–15 days
- Egg Description
- Light sky blue, sometimes with dark-brown speckles.
- Condition at Hatching
- Eyes closed and bodies mostly bare with sparse patches of gray down.
The female gathers nest material and weaves an outer layer of fir, hemlock, spruce, or alder twigs. She adds a middle layer with rotten wood, moss, mud, or decomposing grass, which hardens into a dense cup about 4 inches across and 2 inches deep. Finally, she lines the cup with fine grasses, soft dead leaves, and fine moss, and drapes pieces of green moss over the rim and outside of the nest.
Females probably choose where to build the nest—usually in the understory of a mature forest, often in a spot surrounded by old nests (or even directly on top of one). They are usually around 10 feet off the ground and poorly concealed, close to the trunk of a small conifer.
Varied Thrushes forage on the ground, periodically moving to higher perches in the understory to sing or move between foraging sites. Males reach the breeding grounds before females and start singing to establish territories. They have several threat displays, beginning by cocking the tail, turning it toward an intruder, and lowering the wings. If the adversary remains, the displaying bird will face off, lowering its head, raising and fanning the tail, and spreading its wings out to its side. Occasionally, males peck at or lock bills with each other. While squabbling over territory or chasing away nest intruders, they may dive and swoop through dense vegetation, sometimes hitting branches along the way. Males may also defend small sites around bird feeders in the winter, though females seem to use alternative feeding sites to avoid competition. Varied Thrushes are thought to establish monogamous breeding pairs, but how long the birds stay together is not known.
Varied Thrushes are fairly common, but populations declined by almost 3% per year between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a cumulative decline of 76%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 20 million with 82% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 32% in Canada, and 3% wintering in Mexico. The species rates an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Varied Thrush is a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species, and the 2014 State of the Birds Report lists it as a Common Bird in Steep Decline. Because Varied Thrush live in mature and old-growth forests containing very large trees, logging and forest fragmentation can cause habitat loss that reduces their numbers. These birds don’t tend to live in forest patches smaller than about 40 acres. Around human habitation, Varied Thrushes have proven very vulnerable to window strikes as well as predation by domestic and feral cats and collisions with cars. Varied Thrushes may benefit from reserves that have been established to protect the Northern Spotted Owl.
Short-distance, partial migrant. Some coastal breeders stay in one place year-round, but inland breeders migrate south in winter. Northern breeding populations may “leapfrog” past southern breeding populations, wintering farther south. In many winters, a few Varied Thrushes move erratically and appear in the Midwest and Northeast, far out of their normal range.
In the winter Varied Thrushes will eat seed from ground feeders. Planting native fruiting shrubs is also a good way to attract them to your yard. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
Find This Bird
In the dim, dense forests where Varied Thrushes breed, your first clue that a bird is around will probably be its sweet, echoing, simple song. Look for foraging Varied Thrushes on the ground in small openings, but look for singing birds at higher perches in the understory and lower layers of the forest. In winter, Varied Thrushes show up south of their breeding range and often come to feeders or yards.