A migratory visit by a Swainson's Thrush gave us our 86th species to be viewed in or from our yard. It's our first new yard bird since a Red-bellied Woodpecker visited the feeders on New Years Day this year.
I saw it first yesterday tucked in the rosa rugosa bush, but I had only a front view of it. Based on what I saw yesterday, I thought it was a Hermit Thrush, but was reluctant to consider it identified.
But today, I got a better look at it and saw that it lacked any warm reddish coloration, and especially that it lacked a reddish tail. There was also no tail pumping, a characteristic of the Hermit Thrush. I thought perhaps it was a Swainson's Thrush, and with the help of fellow bird enthusiasts on Facebook and Twitter, we confirmed it.
The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State describes the Swainson's Thrush as "New York's second-rarest breeding thrush, ranking behind only Bicknell's Thrush." Breeding within the state occurs more in coniferous, high elevation habitats such as the Adirondacks and Catskills. It even looks like there has been "Probable" breeding in our area of Saratoga County.
Between the first atlas (1980-85) and the second atlas (2000-05), the "total number of blocks in which Swainson's Thrush was recorded dropped 16 percent". Species Account Authors James D. Lowe and Ralf S. Hames posit that one might look at air pollution and acid deposition as contributing to the decline in breeding in New York state.
Swainson's are common breeders in the boreal forest, with an estimated 60% of the species breeding in the North American boreal, according to The Boreal Songbird Initiative (BSI) site. They note that fall migration of eastern populations is mostly along the Atlantic coast. The Swainson's winter range includes Mexico, central America, and northern South America. BSI states that the Swainson's Thrush "is vulnerable to habitat loss and degradation in its winter range as well as significant mortality from collisions with towers on migration."
The Swainson's has been identified as a bird species that overwinters in or migrates through shade-grown coffee plantations in Latin America. Take a moment to read more about how your choice of morning coffee can impact birds like the Swainson's Thrush.
Fall and spring migration are ideal times to add to a yard list. And even though bird activity is slow and fall migration is nearing its end, I still got to see a great bird and add it to our yard list!
Citation: New York State Breeding Bird Atlas 2000 [Internet]. 2000 - 2005. Release 1.0. Albany (New York): New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. [updated 2007 Jun 11; cited 2009 Oct 13].