When I first spotted this bird, I had no idea they were considered under such threat and limited to a fairly small geographic range because they prefer old-growth coniferous forests. It turns out I later learned the Varied Thrush is on the Audubon Society’s List of Priority Birds primarily based on habitat loss and continuing threats. You may recognise some other familiar, more famous faces alongside the Varied Thrush on the list including the Bald Eagle, the Brown Pelican and the Whooping Crane.
I spotted it very near the top of a tree in a forest garden. The orange belly caught my eye. At first glance, I thought it was an American Robin, but the shape was different to me. When I noticed the black breast-band and knew it was something else. At first glance, they look similar, but are actually quite distinct although they are part of the same family. The Varied Thrush has a beautiful slate-gray back with and orange breast, the black breast-band an an orange stripe above the eye.
This was my first Varied Thrush sighting, and I haven’t had one since. No wonder – it turns out they are quite shy birds. He stayed quite still up in the tree and when I slowly inched a bit closer to get a shot, he didn’t seem to mind. I spent some time just watching him sit up in the tree, like a sentinel of the Pacific Northwest forest.
They can be found in the Pacific Northwest all year long, but will breed as far north as Alaska and winter all the way down to California. I didn’t hear it, but the Varied Thrush is famous for his eerie, buzzing song (have a listen here). Consider yourself lucky if you spot this beautiful bird yourself, or even if you hear its song while walking through the towering Douglas Fir!