Densities of Varied Thrush males singing in the breeding season in south-central Alaska. Map part of the Boreal Avian Modelling Project with data hosted on DataBasin (

Densities of Varied Thrush males singing in the breeding season in south-central Alaska. Map part of the Boreal Avian Modelling Project with data hosted on DataBasin (

Refuge Notebook: Varied Thrush still around on the Kenai

Fall is in the air. Last week, I took a quick walk through the woods. I watched golden leaves sail to the ground. A Varied Thrush popped onto a leafless branch in front of me while a small flock of these birds moved along the ground eating berries. I relished the good views.

Varied Thrush are hard to get a look at in the summer. They nest in shaded conifer forests with thick tree and shrub cover. Their distinct song sounds like a single, drawn out note played on a flute. This song carries through the forest, announcing they are present yet invisible. This shy behavior has made them difficult for biologists to study.

If you get a glimpse, they are quite striking. They have black backs in contrast to an orange underside. A black band cuts across the orange chest and an orange brow line cuts through the black. Orange also peppers the wings. They are similar in size to the American Robin, but robins have no orange on the head or wings and lack the breast band.

Varied Thrush breed mainly in the boreal and maritime forests of Alaska, Yukon, and British Columbia. The densities of breeding Varied Thrush are highest along the coast. The males sing to attract females and defend their territory.

Female Varied Thrush build nests in the understory of mature forest. Females seem to like to return to the same neighborhood and often build in an area surrounded by old nests. They weave twigs into an open cup that is lined and draped with moss and finally lined with fine grass or soft dead leaves. They lay 1-6 pale blue eggs. Both parents feed the hatchlings, and later the fledglings, insects that they forage off the ground.

The flock I observed was a mix of this year’s fledglings and adults. As the berries ripen, Varied Thrush shift their diet from insects to berries. A few hardy birds winter in the coastal rainforest found from Kodiak down to southeast Alaska. However, most of the Varied Thrush move further south to wet forests in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.

The transition from summer to winter is always bittersweet for me. A nice view of the Varied Thrush was at least minor consolation.

Dr. Dawn Robin Magness is a landscape ecologist and Fish & Wildlife Biologist at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Find more information at or

Varied thrush on the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by Dave Menke)

Varied thrush on the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by Dave Menke)

More in Life

The cover of Madeline A. Hawthorne’s “A Christmas Parade,” published by Olympia Publishing.
‘A Christmas Parade’ is local author’s first book

Just in time for Christmas, a new Homer writer and artist has… Continue reading

Rich chocolate pudding can use up excess milk products. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Pudding to the rescue

Chocolate dessert saves a feast gone awry.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Enough is enough

Ole Mother Nature must have misplaced her backup box of vintage dregs from a Cold Duck wine vat.

Homer writer Richard Chiappone. (Photo by Joshua Veldstra)
‘Hunger of Crows’ perfect for winter reading

Chiappone’s first novel is set in Homer, Anchor Point.

Fresh dinner rolls made without the addition of dairy. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Baking for everyone

Dinner rolls skip the dairy, but not the flavor

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: ‘Tis the Season

The Kenai Community Library has always been one of the stars in the crown of the community.

Homer News Ben Mitchell, left, serves spaghetti to helper Pat Wells in the kitchen at a past Share the Spirit spaghetti feed. (Michael Armstrong/Homer News file)
Looking to share some holiday spirit? Here’s how

Share the Spirit serves the Homer community by donating food, essential needs and Christmas presents.

Appease your child’s picky palate with these tasty Tater Tots. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Tots to be thankful for

Two years ago, I spent the entirety of Thanksgiving Day in my green rocking chair, cradling my newborn son.

Minister’s Message: Keep in step

Sometimes it takes going half way around the world to learn how to “keep in step” as I journey.

Shelli and Mike Gordon pose in October 2011 at their Halibut Cove, Alaska, home in an Alaska Gothic version of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting. (Photo courtesy of Mike Gordon)
‘Dagnabit’ features tales of ’80s wild Alaska

Gordon’s second book also tells of Ruben Gaines, creator of Chilkoot Charlie.

Before boiling, this handmade pasta is rolled, cut and tossed in flour to keep from sticking. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Pasta by hand

Learning one of the most important task of the Italian kitchen: making the pasta.

Will Morrow (courtesy)
The Great Thanksgiving dessert debate

Our holiday gathering is going to be smaller than it sometimes is, and it was argued that we didn’t need two desserts.