Feathered Friends: Window strike by Swainson Thrush ends with a fortunate conclusion

3:42 pm | May 20, 2012

An incident that could have ended badly for a migrating bird turned into a happy Mother’s Day story. The tale began around 7 a.m. on Sunday, May 13, when a Swainson’s Thrush suffered a stunning impact with the living room window at my parents’ home.

Photo by Bryan Stevens - This Swainson’s Thrush needed a few hours to recover after slamming into a window at the home of Amos and Peggy Stevens in Hampton. These thrushes migrate through the region each spring and fall.

Like any good mother, my mom collected the bird and put it into a safe shoebox to see if it could recover. We kept the bird in the box in the dark for a few hours. When we started checking on the bird, it showed no inclination to fly the first couple of times that we lifted the lid off the shoe box. On the third time, and after I thought to take a few photos, she flew effortlessly out of the box, maneuvered through some forsythia branches and the lower limbs of a holly tree, and landed in a tree near the creek. I was very relieved that the bird had just been rattled and not injured more seriously. It’s the only Swainson’s Thrush I have seen this spring, but I wish the encounter had not been so hard on the little bird. We all agreed, though, it was a nice Mother’s Day story with such a happy ending.

The Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) is a mediumsized thrush. A member of the Catharus genus, its relatives in North America include the Veery, Hermit Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush and Bicknell’s Thrush.

These thrushes are known for their subtle plumage and beautiful songs. The Swainson’s Thrush was named after William Swainson, an English ornithologist. Thomas Nuttall, an English botanist and zoologist, named the Swainson’s Thrush for Swainson.

Swainson has several other birds named after him. John James Audubon, one of America’s most famous naturalists and painters, named the Swainson’s Warbler in his honor. The Swainson’s Hawk, a large raptor native to the western United States, also pays tribute to his name.

The Swainson’s Thrush is only a migrant through Northeast Tennessee. These thrushes nest on breeding grounds in coniferous woods with dense undergrowth across Canada, Alaska and the northern United States. Some also breed in deciduous woodlands on the Pacific coast of North America.

In the fall, they migrate back through the region, heading to wintering grounds in southern Mexico and sometimes as far south as Argentina.

Their diet includes a mix of insects, fruits and berries. The plumage of these thrushes contains brown upperparts and white underparts with brown on the flanks. The breast shows dark spots against a lighter brown or beige background. They also show a light brown eye ring and a buffy wash in their facial areas. Their olivebrown backs have given rise to the common name, Olivebacked Thrush. The song of the Swainson’s Thrush features a hurried series of flute-like tones spiralling upwards similar to the songs of such relatives the Veery and Hermit Thrush. The ethereal, flute-like notes produced by these singing thrushes have long won this bird wide acclaim for its beautiful, haunting song.

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If you are faced with the distressing situation of having a bird fly into a window, my best advice is to gently place a bird that survives such an impact into a covered box. Leave the bird in a dark place for a couple of hours to let it rest and recuperate.

When it comes time to see if the bird can fly, remove the cover from the box and patiently wait for the bird to make the decision. Any songbird that cannot fly may need to be taken to a certified wildlife rehabilitator. The bones of songbirds can be notoriously difficult to mend, but let a professional handle the care of a bird unable to fly and care for itself. If the injuries are too extensive, a wildlife rehabilitator can provide for humane euthanasia of the bird.

To avoid such situation, there are decals that can be placed in windows that are the scene of frequent bird strikes. In theory, these decals make the window more visible and the birds will avoid the disastrous consequences of a collision.

I heard a Northern Parula singing behind the house on Friday, May 11, before leaving for work. This makes the sixth warbler so far this spring season. After a return of relatively mild weather, the temperatures had also dipped. I suppose the Northern Parula picked a chilly morning to make his spring debut.
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The seventh warbler to visit my yard this spring followed on the heels of the Northern Parula.

I heard a Black-throated Green Warbler singing on the morning of May 16. Ironically, the Black-throated Green Warbler is sometimes the first warbler to return this spring ••••••

I conducted a bird walk at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton on Saturday, May 12, in conjunction with the observance of International Migratory Bird Day.

Attending the walk were Bruce Killian, Nancy Kerr and Cathy Myers, as well as fellow members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society Brookie and Jean Potter, Rob Biller, Tom McNeil and Jim D. Anderson.

We found a good variety of birds, but most of those found represented summer residents and not migrating birds. The total follows: Green Heron, 2; American Kestrel, 2; Mourning Dove, 3; Chimney Swift, 5; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 2; Northern Flicker, 3; Eastern Wood-Pewee, 1; Great Crested Flycatcher, 1; Eastern Kingbird, 5; White-eyed Vireo, 1; Red-eyed Vireo, 2; American Crow, 1; Tree Swallow, 5; Tufted Titmouse, 1; Carolina Wren, 2; House Wren, 1; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 5; Eastern Bluebird, 2; American Robin, 3; Gray Catbird, 1; Cedar Waxwing, 17; Common Yellowthroat, 4; Yellow-breasted Chat, 4; Eastern Towhee, 2; Field Sparrow, 4; Northern Cardinal, 1; Blue Grosbeak, 1; Indigo Bunting, 9; Eastern Meadowlark, 2; Orchard Oriole. 1; and American Goldfinch, 11.

Some of the more dramatic observations included the harassment of an American Kestrel by Eastern Kingbirds and an American Robin. The small falcon clutched the body of a small bird in its talons, and we speculated that the falcon may have snatched a careless young bird. Such an action by this predatory bird would have been more than sufficient to bring down the wrath of the American Robin and Eastern Kingbird.
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To share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment, call me at 297-9077 or email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or bstevens@starhq.com. I am also on Facebook.

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