The Hermit Thrush is a medium-sized songbird with a brown back, a light-colored chest with black spots, and a reddish tail. There is a thin white ring around each of the bird's eyes. Hermit Thrushes have pink legs. Males and females are similar in appearance.
A Hermit Thrush measures about 6.75 inches in length, with a wingspan of roughly 11.5 inches (29 cm). It weighs about 1 ounce (28 g).
- A Hermit Thrush's syrinx (vocal organ found at the base of the trachea) contains complex muscles that allow it to produce multiple notes simultaneously. This allows the bird's song to be heard amongst the thick vegetation which is found in the bird's habitat.
- The Hermit Thrush is perfectly camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings, which include tree branches and the forest floor.
Hermit Thrushes forage for food on the ground. In the summer, a wild Hermit Thrush consumes insects almost exclusively. In winter, when there are fewer insects to be found, the Hermit Thrush adds fruit into its diet as well. The Hermit Thrush at Cosley Zoo eats a songbird diet composed of a processed insectivore (insect-eater) food, chopped fruits and vegetables, mealworms, and sunflower seeds.
Hermit Thrushes build their nests in low places, either on the ground, or on a low tree branch. They lay 3-4 blue-green eggs at a time in a nest which is a cup made of moss, leaves, grasses, and other plant material. Females lay their first clutch (group of eggs) in May, and can raise 2 or 3 clutches per year. Once the young birds have hatched, the female feeds them with food that is brought to her by the male. The young birds fledge (leave the nest for the first time) 10-15 days after hatching.
Shelter and Space Needs
Hermit Thrushes are found in forests and woodlands, utilizing the trees for roosting and to make nests in and eating insects and fruits off the forest floor. Their summer breeding range is Canada and the western and northeastern United States, and they winter in the southern US and Mexico. Hermit Thrushes pass through Illinois during migration.
Hermit Thrushes can live up to 8 years in the wild. However, due to predation and juvenile mortality, very few of them actually live this long. The actual life expectancy of a Hermit Thrush is unknown.
Relationship with Man
Hermit Thrushes are enjoyed by bird enthusiasts because they are thought to be the world’s most beautiful singers. In the Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music, F. Schuyler Matthews states that "The song of the Hermit Thrush is the grand climax of all bird music; it is unquestionably so far removed from all the rest of the wild-woods singers' accomplishments that vaunted comparisons are invidious and wholly out of place." They are also insect-eaters that help to control insect populations.
- Hermit Thrushes are often seen twitching their wings and tails. This behavior helps bird-watchers to recognize them in the field.
- The scientific genus name Catharus comes from the Greek word katharos, which means "pure." This refers to the beautiful flute-like song. The species name guttatus comes from the Greek gutata, meaning "spotted" as in the bird’s spotted breast.
- Hermit Thrushes have been observed performing a strange behavior called "anting," in which they pick up ants and rub them on their feathers. The most common theory for why birds do this is because ants give off secretions that are antifungal, antibacterial, and insecticidal, and by rubbing the ants on their bodies, the birds can keep their feathers healthy.