What bird sounds like a piccolo blast?

I entered these words into Google this morning, after the morning filled up again, with these short sweet high-pitched notes, like a reed or piccolo note… “What BC bird sounds like a piccolo?” and UP popped a video about the veery thrush. And up burbled a memory, of John Tschopp, our adopted birding guru here at the Wellness Almanac, saying “veery” in his Swiss-inflected accent. I met with Mr Tschopp over a coffee at Grimm’s Deli 5 years ago, and he told me what a quietly marvellous place we live in.

One summer, University researchers caught three veeries from Tschopp’s property and fitted them with geolocators. The devices were simple – they just recorded data, but didn’t transmit it – so for the research to be complete, the tagged birds needed to be caught upon their return. Two were found back at Tschopp’s and the data showed that they had spent the winter in the Amazon rainforest.

“They migrate singly,” says Tschopp. “Each individual does the trip on its own. Nobody shows them the way. The navigation is genetically imprinted. They head off in the dark of the night, find their way to the Amazon, and then they come back.”

I watched the video and the sound didn’t match what I was hearing, so I continued down the bird-hole, and found my singers… thanks to the Cornell Labs’ All About Birds website. My backyard friends are varied thrushes.

Explains Cornell Lab: “Male Varied Thrushes sing a whistled, flutelike, sometimes burry tone on a single pitch. They sing mainly in the morning and evening, usually from the top of live conifers. Each song lasts about 2 seconds and is followed by a pause of 3–20 seconds. Successive tones may be on different pitches. This cycle is repeated for 10–15 minutes, until the bird flies to a new perch and starts again.”

The Varied Thrush’s simple, ringing song gives a voice to the quiet forests of the Pacific Northwest, with their towering conifers and wet understories of ferns, shrubs, and mosses. Catch a glimpse of this shy bird and you’ll see a handsome thrush with a slaty gray back and breast band set against burnt-orange breast and belly. Common in the Cascades, Northern Rockies, and Pacific Coast, Varied Thrushes forage for insects in summer and switch to berries and seeds in winter.

From what I can gather (birders, send in corrections!), the veery is a thrush that is a little smaller and more cinnamon and white coloured, than the redder markings of the male varied thrush. The Varied Thrush is a short-distance migrant, more likely to overwinter around here, just at lower elevations, than to head to the Amazon. They are more sociable in the winter and might gather in loose flocks of 20, including their cousin the American Robin.

I discover articles referring to the varied thrush is sometimes called “the voice of the northwest”, “a chime in the shadows” or “the haunted voice of ancient forests” with its “eerie ethereal whistles.”

Apparently, “The male Varied Thrush sings to defend his territory. The song is most often heard at dawn, dusk, and after a rain shower.”

But I wonder, you know, whether it’s not all defence, and he might just be singing for the joy if it and to let his winter pals know where he’s built a nest – over here! Over here! Not to say, “you all stay away”, so much as to say, “I am here! And here I am! And it’s it glorious to be?!”

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