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Male Hermit Thrushes Returning

During the past week a familiar and ethereal song has been emanating from nearby woodlands.  Male Hermit Thrushes have returned, as have their flute-like songs. These songs are made with a syrinx (not a larynx like humans have), an organ unique to birds. It is not much bigger than a raindrop in most birds and is extremely efficient, using nearly all the air that passes through it. (A human creates sound using only 2% of the air exhaled through the larynx.)

The syrinx is located where the trachea splits into two bronchial tubes. In songbirds, each side of the syrinx is independently controlled, allowing birds to produce two unrelated pitches (one from each half of its syrinx) simultaneously.  Hermit Thrushes can produce rising and falling notes at the same time, creating the melodious and haunting song that greets our ears early in the spring. This renowned songster can be heard at

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9 responses

  1. The song of the thrush is truly the sound of the woodland choir.

    May 1, 2020 at 8:43 am

  2. Hi Mary, I have a question. I live on a farm wtih a barn. Every year, swallows nest in the barn. This year, the swallows are not back yet. I am so worried! Have you noticed that they are late this year? I know it’s been a cold spring but… Did something happen to them? Thanks

    May 1, 2020 at 8:52 am

    • Hi Sharon,
      You don’t mention where you live or the species of swallow, but I’m assuming barn?…but regardless, it’s an interesting observation. Barn Swallows are back in Vermont, but I don’t know if their arrival was late this year. You could contact the Vermont Center for Ecostudies in Norwich, VT and I am sure they would know.

      May 1, 2020 at 9:18 am

  3. Alice

    I think I’ve had one on the seed feeder, saw it today. 11:15 this morning I was so excited to see a male Hummingbird on one of the 4 feeders I hung out last Saturday…I so look forward to them! Happy May Day!

    May 1, 2020 at 4:12 pm

  4. It’s really fun to watch the throat of the thrush (on the link you supplied) as he sings! Thanks for the explanation of his syrinx! He barely moves his beak, but the throat vibrates visibly…

    May 1, 2020 at 6:12 pm

  5. Cordelia Merritt

    Mary Thank you so much for including the link to the song. It’s lovely.

    Now, ARE YOU HEADING NORTH (by northwest) as planned? Whit and I have wondered – and worried too – about your move. Cheers from you nosy friend, Cordie


    May 1, 2020 at 9:57 pm

  6. Lynne Woodard

    Hi Mary- I’ve been delighted to hear the hermit thrushes for the past few days here in Maple Corner. I just spent some minutes toggling between the call of the hermit thrush and that of the wood thrush- still not sure I have them straight in my aging brain!
    I have had to change my email address, and I can’t seem to see where to sign up to have you delivered to my inbox on the days you post- how do I do that?

    May 2, 2020 at 8:02 am

    • Lynne Woodard

      Never mind! I think I have figured it out!

      May 2, 2020 at 8:07 am

      • Hi Lynne,
        Glad you figured it out! The easiest way to tell the difference between a wood thrush and a hermit thrush singing, at least for me, is that the hermit thrush’s song starts with a single prolonged note – the wood thrush’s song lacks this initial note. Hope that helps!

        May 2, 2020 at 4:12 pm

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