Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
This strikingly handsome thrush breeds in coniferous forests throughout most of Alaska, south through the Yukon, British Columbia, and in five northwestern states, where it is found as far south as northern California. In winter, its range shifts south, extending from Kodiak Island and British Columbia all the way to Baja California.
Dark, dense, mossy northwestern pine forests are the favored haunts of the Varied Thrush. It breeds in a variety of coniferous habitats, but is most common in wet coastal stands of spruce, hemlock, or fir. In winter, it wanders into different forest types, but is most likely to be encountered in dense wooded areas near ravines or streams. It is also more likely to be found at feeders, in yards, or even on lawns at this time of year.
The diet of the Varied Thrush changes from season to season. When breeding, it mainly searches the forest floor for arthropods and other invertebrates, which it often locates by using its bill to flip leaf litter into the air. It will also take a variety of prey, including worms, caterpillars and insects. In winter, its diet becomes especially dependant upon fruits and berries, but also upon seeds, acorns, and other nuts. In winter and during migration, it is often attracted to cultivated food sources such as berry patches, apples, olives, and other crops.
The female seems to choose the nest site, and takes responsibility for building the nest, leaving the male free to delineate his territory with his eerily whistled song. The nest is usually placed at the base of a branch along the trunk, but can also be constructed on buildings, or even directly on the ground. The bulky cup nest is lined with soft materials such as grasses, and 2-5 brown-speckled sky blue eggs are deposited. The female incubates her eggs for about two weeks, but both parents tend to the chicks following hatching. Chicks are blind, naked and helpless, requiring constant care for the first several days. They develop quickly, however, and fledge from the nest after about two weeks. The time spanned from egg laying to fledging is less than five weeks, which grants adult pairs plenty of time to raise a second brood.
Different Varied Thrush populations employ varying migration strategies. It seems that while interior populations migrate far to the south, coastal populations may only migrate short distances, if at all. The Varied Thrush is a hearty bird, capable of surviving through the roughest of winters, but most birds depart from the northernmost portions of its range in winter. The Varied Thrush is regularly found far south of its breeding range in winter, but numbers present vary widely from year to year in certain areas. This species is also highly prone to vagrancy in winter, when at least a few individual birds inevitably show up on the east coast almost annually. Bird watchers have reported rare winter records of vagrant Varied Thrushes from nearly every state and province in North America over the years.