The Sweetest Sound

     I can think of no sweeter sound than the song of a wood thrush.

     As dusk closes in on a summer evening, and I am in the kitchen washing dishes, I hear from down in the forest the singing of a wood thrush.  Sometimes I must stop what I’m doing to get closer to the sound.   I stroll down the hill into the woods in the day’s fading light, and I am immediately soothed by the singing of unseen musicians.  The sounds of one bird singing its trilling song and another piping its response make their way directly into my heart.  And all cares, thoughts, preoccupations vanish.  I am in the moment, in love with the sound and with the forest around me.

   The song of the wood thrush is like no other bird’s song that I know.  Its incredible sweetness is hard to describe.  Each sequence of notes may be different from the last, one ending high, the next low, with tuneful warbles in between.  The song of the wood thrush seems more like music than the songs of other birds.  And the reason, apparently, is that the wood thrush has a more complex syrinx (song box) than other birds, enabling it to sing two notes at once.  The wood thrush can harmonize with itself!   

          Sometimes when I am in the forest enjoying the wood thrush’s music, a romantic picture comes to my mind.  I see Pierre, the earnest, anguished, idealistic aristocrat of Tolstoy’s War and Peace strolling through the Russian forest with his wife Natasha.  I’m not sure whether I am recalling an actual scene from the book, or just imagining it.  But since I love the character of Pierre, I imagine him drinking in the wood thrush’s evening serenade deeply, as I do.

     One writer who definitely wrote about the wood thrush was Henry David Thoreau.  He said of its song, “Whenever a man hears it, he is young, and nature is in her spring;  wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut against him.”  Wow. 

     For such a magnificent singer, the wood thrush seems a modest soul, seldom making an appearance to us humans.  If you do see a wood thrush perched on a tree branch or hunting for insects on the forest floor, you may be surprised by its unassuming appearance.  The bird’s head and back are brown, and its white breast is dotted with spots of bright brown.  Only its large dark eye, encircled in a white ring, gives the bird a distinctive look.  This is a bird that blends in with its background–except when it sings.  And then it is the star of the forest.

     If you would like to watch and listen to a wood thrush as it sings, just click on the link below:

Watch and listen as a wood thrush sings.

A few facts about the wood thrush:

  • The wood thrush is a robin-sized bird.
  • Only the male is known to sing.  Typically, he sings in the early morning and at the end of the day.  At the height of breeding season, however, he may sing anytime during the day.
  • The wood thrush spends the summer breeding season in forest areas throughout the eastern United States, and winters in Central America.
  • The bird is an interior forest bird, rarely seen outside of deep woods.
  • A pair of wood thrushes may raise more than one brood each year.  Both parents feed the young.
  • Wood thrushes have been seen ‘anting,’ picking up ants and rubbing them on their feathers.  The reason for this behavior is not well-understood.  Is the bird acquiring defensive secretions?  Is the bird supplementing its own oily coating?
  • The wood thrush eats ants, moths, caterpillars, and more.  In the late summer and fall it eats the fruit of such trees as black cherry, tupelo, elderberry, and spicebush.–April Moore

10 Responses to “The Sweetest Sound”

  1. Judy Muller Says:

    Such a lovely song, April. No wonder it calls you away from your kitchen and into the forest. The facts mention Eastern United States, but I think I heard it on a hike in the beautiful forests of the Manzano Mountains here in New Mexico. I found the sound enchanting, and noticed that I was holding my breath, anticipating the next call.

    My favorite of all bird calls is the cascading scale of the Canyon Wren, an elusive little bird that I have heard only in rocky canyons in Arizona and New Mexico, and have rarely seen. It will sing 9 or 11 or maybe 17 sweet, quickly-descending notes, then silence. If you are lucky, you will hear it more than once, but it is not a continuous song.

  2. Joan Brundage Says:

    Thanks, April, for the beautiful writing and video. I love to hear Wood Thrushes here in the Catalina Mountains in southern Arizona near Tucson. I have rarely seen them though. A lot of the trees you mention as food sources also exist in our mountains.

  3. April Says:

    Thank you, Judy and Joan, for correcting me. Apparently, I’m wrong about the wood thrush summering only in the eastern half of the U.S.

    And Judy, now that you mention it, I remember hearing the canyon wren in the west! Its song too is beautiful!

  4. George Elvin Says:

    You mentioned Tolstoy and Thoreau, but the writer your story brings to my mind is T.S. Eliot because your nature posts are a reminder of “the wild thyme unseen” that urbanites like me so often overlook. In fact, your blog is kind of like the song of the wood thrush, a gentle reminder of what’s real amid all the Internet chatter.

  5. Elizabeth Scott Says:

    Thanks, April. Your entry (plus the bit of video) brought back an ancient memory of my father taking my sibling and me with him on bird watching trips to the Blue Ridge… 40-50 years ago now! He would hush us all up so we could hear the wood thrush. (He could always spot them, but I never had the talent.)

  6. Elizabeth Scott Says:

    typo…. Make that siblings! (there were 5 of us)

  7. Diane Artz Furlong Says:

    Thanks for making us stop and listen. I thought I saw a brown thrasher yesterday. I shall listen more closely now.

  8. Tanya Bohlke Says:

    Thank you, April. What a lovely way to start my day!

  9. Elizabeth H. Cottrell Says:

    Wonderful — and I am glad to finally identify this exquisite song that I’ve been hearing.

    Can you or your readers share techniques for getting better at song bird identification? I may just need to find someone more knowledgeable than I am and ask if I may take walks with them.


  10. Todd Says:

    george is right.

    you give a “gentle reminder of what’s real” or, as i’d put it, a gentle approach to one step at a time, seeing what’s in nature ……..

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