They’re Back! Indigo Bunting and Wood Thrush

 May 2015

by Linda Martinson

It is always bird watching time at Richland Ridge, but the arrival of the neotropical migrant birds in the spring is especially exciting. The indigo bunting is a small bird that spends the winter in northern South America. 

The female is brown year-round, and the male is brown only in the winter. During the spring breeding season, male indigo buntings are a solid bright blue and can be seen singing almost constantly from a high perch in shrubby or weedy areas, often near the edge of a forested area. 

His song lasts about two seconds and is described as cheerful, bouncy, bright, and lively. They can sing as many as 200 songs in an hour. Listen for sweet, varied double phases like “sweet- sweet, chew-chew, see-it see-it, what-if what-if.”

Male indigo buntings have been spotted in the Earthshine Lodge meadow and in the small meadow along West Ridge Rd.

Indigo Bunting. Photos taken at Warren Wilson College
by Jim Poling, also a Blue Ridge Naturalist

The more reclusive Wood Thrush has been described as having one of the most beautiful songs of all North American birds. Henry David Thoreau wrote that whenever a man hears the wood thrush sing, “…he is young…it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of Heaven are not shut against him.” 

The male Wood Thrush song has three parts: the first a series of short low-pitched notes such as “bup, bup, bup,” almost as if he were clearing his throat to sing. The middle part is a loud phrase sounding like “ee-oh-lay..” The third part is a rapid trill of pairs of non-harmonic notes. 

Because the male thrush can sing two notes at once, his song is often described as flute-like. Watch and listen for Wood Thrushes in the forested parts of Richland Ridge, for example, along the Bog Trail. 

Often you can hear them scratching and digging through the leaf litter of the forest floor, making a loud noise out of proportion to their size. Both male and female Wood Thrushes have warm red-brown upper bodies, white underbodies with black spots, and a distinctive white eye-ring.

Wood Thrush