Thursday, February 9, 2017

Townsend's Solitaire

Rare Western Thrush Visits NB

Townsend's Solitaire
For the past 3 weeks there has been a Townsend's Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) visiting a feeder area in Riverview.  As shown above, this is a long, slender very gray bird.  It is a member of the Thrush Family (Turdidae) but is a little different from other thrush members that normally live here, e.g., robins, hermit thrushes, bluebirds.  

The Townsend's Solitaire is dark gray above and light gray below.  It has a small dark bill, distinctive white eyering and splashes of beige on its wings.  It has white outer tail feathers and shows a buffy-orange colour under its wings in flight.  It is 21.5 cm long (8.5").  In the photo above note the eyering.  This bird is just beginning to show a bit of beige on the wings.  It is probably a juvenile just getting its adult plumage.

Townsend's Solitaire [National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, p. 483]
The illustration above shows the adult, young and a bird in flight.  Note the buffy/beige patch on the wings of the perched adult and the white outer tail feathers.  The bird in flight shows the distinctive buffy-orange under the wings.  Most young thrushes are spotted as shown above.  Note the long tail.  It would be very unusual to see a young bird here because the bird does not breed in this part of North America.

Townsend's Solitaire
It is rare for this species to show up in NB.  It normally breeds in British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska and winters in the western US south to Mexico.  It is a permanent resident in the mountains of the western US.  Townsend's Solitaires breed in the mountains and come to the lowlands for the winter.  They feed on insects, worms and berries.  Normally they feed on juniper berries in winter.

According to Birds of New Brunswick An Annotated List there have been about 15 records of visits of this species to NB.  They come in fall and winter and often do not come to feeders.  Clearly their arrival is a result of disturbed migration patterns.

Thrushes are noted for their songs.  This species sings a very long warbling sound much like a purple finch or certain warblers.  There is no common species here that one would mistake this species for.  However, it could be mistaken for a Northern Mockingbird which shows up here in small numbers every year now.  The mockingbird is larger and does not have the white eyering, has two white wing-bars and a longer bill.

Winter is an unique time for those interested in birds.  The cold weather and scarcity of food tend to bring birds to feeders.  That makes it easier to notice a rare visitor.  We have had many this year in New Brunswick.

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