The Hermit Thrush exposed

I was walking with a friend in the woods, when a small brown bird suddenly flew up from the ground in front of us. On a lucky day (for us), this suggests we have disturbed a mother, quietly tending her nest. And there it was, concealed under a few small ferns, right in the middle of the trail:


And containing two stunning blue eggs:


The mother usually doesn’t go far, but she is hard to see in the dappled woodland. This time, we found her, a hermit thrush, Catharus guttatus faxoni:


Ground-nesting birds seem to be running a terrible risk of discovery, and indeed studies show that the best predictor of nest success is how well-concealed and camouflaged the nest and eggs are. So why do they have bright blue eggs?? Search me.

Hermit thrushes may have two or even three broods per year, especially if the first brood fails. This brood is extremely late, although luckily for these chicks this is a species that migrates very late, mid-October being common, so they should make it out before winter closes in. Like many Mainers, they over-winter in Florida.

Hermit thrush song is haunting, with short 1.5 second snatches, called song types, separated by 2.5 second silences. Roach et al (2012) studied Maine Hermit Thrush song in detail. Each song type is slightly different, rather like a nightingale, and a male has a repertoire of up to 12 song types. Each male’s repertoire is entirely different. A song bout can have up to 100 song types in it. Listen here:

Human hermits are usually shown in caves, but here is a ground-nesting human hermit: John Singer Sargent’s The Hermit (Il solitario)


The Metropolitan Museum if Art website says “Sargent based this painting on sketches he had made in Val d’Aosta, in the foothills of the Alps, in northwestern Italy. … When approving The Hermit as the translated title of the picture, Sargent wrote to the director of the Metropolitan, “I wish there were another simple word that did not bring with it any Christian association, and that rather suggested quietness and pantheism.”

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