There is no more beautiful sound in the forest than the Wood Thrush. I grew up mesmerized by their melodious calls in the woods of Teterboro and Losen Slote. Their magical, flute-like sound echoes at dawn throughout the woods of the northeast in spring and summer, but those signature notes of the woods have been fast disappearing to the point where New Jersey Fish & Wildlife has declared the Wood thrush a species of “Special Concern.”
The consummate musician of the New Jersey forests, the Wood Thrush, according to Cornell’s “All About Birds,” sings “internal duets” with itself. In the final trilling phrase of its three-part song, it sings pairs of notes simultaneously, one in each branch of its y-shaped syrinx, or voice box. The two parts harmonize with each other to produce a haunting, ventriloquially sound.
Sadly, the numbers of Wood Thrush have seriously declined in recent decades. Multiple factors such as habitat loss and forest fragmentation are the leading problems since the Wood Thrush needs large areas of unbroken forest with closed tree canopies to breed successfully. Forest fragmentation leaves nests vulnerable to predation as well as nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds. Habitat loss within their winter range in Mexico and Central America has been dramatic in recent years, adding to population stress on this incredible little bird.
Another factor contributing to the Wood Thrush’s decline is that it requires 10 to 15 times as much calcium to lay a clutch of eggs as a similar size mammal needs to nurture its young. That makes calcium-rich food supplements like snail shells crucial to successful breeding. Unfortunately these have been drastically reduced due to acid rain.
The Wood Thrush today is listed as a “Species of Special Concern” in New Jersey, which applies to species that warrant special attention because of evidence of decline and vulnerability to environmental deterioration that may result in them becoming a threatened or endangered species. But many believe the Wood Thrush may be, as we speak, headed to the States Endangered species list.
The Wood Thrush makes an amazing migration in both spring and fall. They will travel 1,250 miles one-way and cross the Gulf of Mexico in a nonstop flight that takes an enormous amount of energy. They will seek native plants bearing caterpillars, spiders, and other insects.
Once in the nesting woodlands, females will look for snails for calcium. From April to late summer they will hunt under leaves for whatever insects they can find. The Wood Thrush will also depend on the berries of those native plants as the plants bear their fruit at exactly the right time and have much more nutritional values than non-native plants.
What we can do to help
1) Protect Open Space -We all need to be sure that our State and local governments through open space initiatives work to protect and preserve large areas of intact woodland habitat that will enable the Wood Thrush to breed and raise offspring much more successfully.
2) Plant Native Plants – By planting natives such as spicebush, blueberry, American Holly, Elderberry, Jack in the Pulpit and Virginia Creeper, among others, you can help the Wood Thrush as it stops in your backyard to find berries and insects.
3) Leave the Leaves! – This is very important to many species of birds, butterflies and pollinators. Use leaf mulch for your plants, and allow last year’s leaves to remain in parts of your yard. This is vital for birds like the Wood Thrush to find the food it needs to survive.
4) Create a Bergen County Audubon Certified Wildlife Garden – This is a free program that works to create and register backyards, schoolyards and business’ wildlife habitat which make stepping-stones to help birds like the Wood Thrush migrate and survive. For more info click here http://www.bergencountyaudubon.org/cwg/
The Wood Thrush is a remarkable creature and its wonderful song and incredible migration need to be protected. I can only hope and pray that our future generations will grow up and continue to have the privilege of hearing the music of the Wood Thrush in the forests of New Jersey.
For more info on the Wood Thrush go to: www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/wood-thrush