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Birds of the St. Croix River Valley: Minnesota and Wisconsin

FAMILY TURDIDAE

Thrushes, Solitaires, and Bluebirds


American Robin -- Varied Thrush -- Wood Thrush -- Hermit Thrush -- Swainson's Thrush -- Gray-cheeked Thrush -- Veery -- Eastern Bluebird -- Townsend's Solitaire

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Status: Regular migrant, nesting species, and winter resident.

Migration: Abundant migrant throughout the Valley. The first spring migrants arrive in the Western Upland during the first 10 days of March, reaching the Northern Highland 15-25 March. Peak spring migration through the Valley occurs 25 March to 15 April. Fall migration begins during late August with the formation of loose feeding flocks. Peak fall migration occurs 15 September to 10 October and most have departed by 1 November. During the peak of fall migration, flocks of 50 to 75 individuals are regularly encountered and occasional groups of 200 to 250 have been recorded.

Nesting Season Distribution: Abundant nesting species in the Western Upland and Central Plain, common in the Northern Highland. Jackson (1943) considered the American robin abundant throughout northwestern Wisconsin in 1919. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 5) show that the American robin is by far the most numerous nesting thrush in the Valley. Goddard (1972) recorded a nesting density of 18.4 pairs per 40 ha in the Kinnickinnic River Valley, Pierce County.

Winter: This species is fairly well distributed throughout the Valley; several midwinter records exist from Burnett, Douglas, and Pine counties. American robins are regularly observed during midwinter in the Western Upland and appear to be dependent on trees and shrubs (mountain ash, cedar) that retain their fruits throughout the period.

Habitat: Breeding American robins are found in nearly all habitat types in the Valley. This species has adapted well to man's continued alteration of the Valley and is a common breeding species in park-like Residential Habitats. The establishment of Pine Plantations, particularly in the Western Upland and Central Plain, has provided increased areas of excellent nesting habitat.


Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)

Status: Casual winter visitor.

Records: This western thrush has been recorded in the Valley at least seven times. Minnesota records include one at Stillwater, Washington County, from mid-December to 30 March 1974 (Eckert 1974). Additional Washington County records include single birds on 3 January 1976, late November 1976, and 9 January 1977. Longley (1967) observed a single bird in Chisago County on 13 November 1966. Records from the Wisconsin counties include one bird at Osceola, Polk County, from early December 1948 until 21 April 1949 (Simmons 1949). One apparently wintering bird remained near Grantsburg, Burnett County, from 12 November 1963 to mid-March 1964 (Bauers 1964).

Habitat: Varied thrushes in this region are usually found at feeding stations. Surrounding habitats include Southern Deciduous Forest composed primarily of Hill's and white oak and brushy edges.


Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species.

Migration: Uncommon migrant throughout the Valley. Spring migrants arrive in the Western Upland 1-5 May, reaching the Northern Highland 10-15 May. Peak spring migration through the Valley occurs 10-25 May. During late July this species becomes very secretive and is not regularly encountered. Peak fall migration apparently occurs 15- 30 August and departure 20-30 September.

Nesting Season Distribution: Uncommon nesting species throughout the Valley. Jackson (1943) found this species "fairly common" at St. Croix Falls and heard it occasionally at Danbury (Burnett County) in 1919. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 5) show a fairly uniform breeding density throughout the Western Upland and Central Plain. The greatest abundance apparently occurs in the Northern Highland. In Minnesota, however, Green and Janssen (1975) consider it most common south of the latitude occupied by the Twin Cities. Goddard (1972) reported a density of 2.1 pairs per 40 ha in the Kinnickinnic River Valley, Pierce County.

Habitat: In the Western Upland, the wood thrush is most common in mature Southern Deciduous Forest and Lowland Deciduous Forest. Breeding pairs in the Central Plain are most commonly encountered in mesic Northern Hardwood Forest. In the Northern Highland, this species uses Northern Hardwood Forest and is occasionally found in Lowland Coniferous Forest. In all instances, wood thrushes appear to select woodlands with a closed canopy of mature trees.


Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species.

Migration: Common migrant throughout the Valley. The hermit thrush is the first of the Catharus thrushes to arrive in spring. The first migrants arrive in the Western Upland 5-10 April (earliest-31 March 1967, Washington County) and reach the Northern Highland 10-15 April. Peak spring migration occurs 15-25 April and departure from nonbreeding areas occurs by 10 May. Fall migration begins in late August. Peak abundance occurs 25 September to 15 October and departure by 1 November (latest-5 November 1975).

Nesting Season Distribution: Fairly common nesting species in the Northern Highland, rare and local in the Central Plain (Table 5). Confirmed nest records exist for Douglas and Pine counties, and nesting is inferred in Burnett and Polk counties.

Habitat: This species is characteristic of wet coniferous-deciduous forests in the Northern Highland. Important among these are Lowland Coniferous Forest, Black Spruce-Tamarack Bogs, and low areas of Northern Hardwood Forest. Breeding pairs also use drier portions of Jack Pine Barrens throughout the Northern Highland.


Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus)

Status: Regular migrant and probable nesting species.

Migration: Common spring and abundant fall migrant throughout the Valley. Spring migrants arrive in the Western Upland 5-10 May (earliest-30 April 1950, Polk County), reaching the Northern Highland 10-15 May. Peak abundance through the Valley occurs 15-25 May and departure by 5 June (latest-8 June 1968, Polk County). This species is the first of the Catharus thrushes to arrive in the fall. The first migrants arrive in the Western Upland 5-10 August (earliest-27 July 1966, St. Croix County). Peak abundance through the Valley occurs 25 August to 15 September and departure by 10 October.

Nesting Season Distribution: Rare and local in the Northern Highland during the nesting season. There are no confirmed records of nesting in the Valley. Green and Janssen (1975) showed the probable breeding range of this thrush to include northern and central Pine County. Roberts (1932) mentioned records that suggest nesting in Pine County in 1918. I recorded one singing male along the St. Croix River in Douglas County on 20 June 1976. This is my only summer record for the Valley.

Habitat: During migration, Swainson's thrush regularly uses a wide range of deciduous and coniferous communities. My only nesting season record was obtained from a large tract of Lowland Coniferous Forest that was dominated by black spruce, balsam fir, and yellow birch.


Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus)

Status: Regular migrant.

Migration: Uncommon migrant throughout the Valley. Spring migrants arrive in the Western Upland 5-10 May (earliest-1 May 1967, St. Croix County), reaching the Northern Highland about 10 May. Peak migration occurs 15- 25 May and departure by 5 June. Fall migrants arrive in the Northern Highland in mid-August, reaching the Western Upland 25-30 August. Peak fall migration occurs 5-15 September and departure by 1 October.

Habitat: Largely restricted to mature tracts of Upland and Lowland Deciduous Forest in the Western Upland. In the Central Plain and Northern Highland, this species is most numerous in Northern Hardwood and Lowland Coniferous Forests.


Veery (Catharus fuscescens)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species.

Migration: Common migrant throughout the Valley. Spring migrants arrive in the Western Upland 25 April to 1 May, reaching the Northern Highland 1-5 May. Peak spring migration through the Valley occurs 10-25 May. Fall migration begins in early August. Peak abundance occurs 20 August to 10 September and departure by 1 October.

Nesting Season Distribution: Common nesting species in the Northern Highland and Central Plain, uncommon to rare and local in the Western Upland. Jackson (1943) reported that the veery was common throughout northwestern Wisconsin. The southern limit of the breeding range is closely associated with the southern limit of maple-basswood forest. This range limit occurs about at the latitude occupied by Marine-on-St. Croix, Washington County. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 5) suggest a rapid increase in relative abundance moving northward across the Valley.

Habitat: Primarily a species occupying various age classes of moist deciduous forest. In the Northern Highland and Central Plain, this species uses mature stands of Northern Hardwood Forest dominated by sugar maple, basswood, trembling aspen, and white birch. Alder Thicket, Lowland Coniferous Forest, and Black Spruce-Tamarack Bogs are also used in these regions. In the Western Upland, habitat use is almost entirely restricted to mixed maple-oak Forest. Occasional use is made of Shrub Carr wetlands that support an abundant growth of silver willow.


Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species, casual in winter.

Migration: Fairly common spring and fall migrant in the Western Upland and Central Plain, more localized in the Northern Highland. Spring migrants arrive in the Western Upland 20-30 March (earliest-12 March 1966 Washington County and 12 March 1977, Pierce County) and the Northern Highland about 1 April. Peak abundance through the Valley occurs 15-30 April. Fall migration begins with the formation of loose family groups in mid-August. Peak fall abundance occurs 15 September to 10 October and departure by 1 November (latest-30 November 1967, Washington County). On 17 October 1964, W. E. Scott observed an estimated 200 eastern bluebirds near St. Croix Falls, Polk County (Kemper 1965).

Nesting Season Distribution: Fairly common nesting species throughout the Valley. Jackson (1943) found this species common in northwestern Wisconsin, especially in recently burned areas. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 5) suggest that a fairly uniform abundance exists throughout the Western Upland and Central Plain, except in the Jack Pine Barren region along the Union transect, Burnett County.

Concern has been expressed about the status of the eastern bluebird in North America (cf. Arbib 1978) and in Wisconsin (R.L. Hine, personal communication). Some authorities believe that population declines are related to mortality on the wintering grounds, whereas others believe these declines are related to competition for nest sites with other hole-nesting species (e.g., house sparrow). Careful monitoring of the Valley population should be undertaken to determine if declines are occurring.

Winter: One bird was observed at St. Croix Falls, Polk County, on 7 and 8 February 1948. Two birds were observed in Washington County on 20 December 1969. Roberts (1932) mentioned, without details, winter records from Washington County.

Habitat: The eastern bluebird is a characteristic species of edge and open habitats including fencerows, early successional stage deciduous forest, Deciduous Clear Cuts, and openings in grazed woodlots. In the Northern Highland and Central Plain, extensive use is made of Jack Pine Barrens. This is evidenced by the high relative abundance of this species along the Union BBS transect, Burnett County. Local populations, particularly in agricultural areas, can be enhanced by the establishment and monitoring of bluebird houses. Many 4-H Clubs and Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapters have created "Bluebird Trails" that are very beneficial in providing nesting sites.


Townsend's Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi)

Status: Accidental.

Records: One Townsend's solitaire was observed at Hudson, St. Croix County, from December 1942 to 10 January 1943 (Scott 1943a). Longley (1973a) described the observation of a single bird in Chisago County on 27 April 1973.


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