A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Varied Thrush is fairly common in Sonoma County during the winter months in appropriate habitat, but numbers vary widely from year to year. Recent irruptive years in our area have been 2011-12 and 2007-08. Varied Thrush breeds in western Alaska, northwestern Canada, and the extreme northwest of the United States, moving into California's Central Valley and coastal California as far south as around San Diego in the winter. Likes damp wooded areas and thickets. May be heard scraping in leaf litter before it's seen, but forages in trees as well. Eats berries and insects. May be solitary, but often in small flocks. May associate with American Robin (Turdus migratorius), which it resembles in size and general shape (see below).

Varied Thrush is among our most handsome birds. It's no surprise that Sibley chose this bird for the cover of his field guide to Western birds, or that visitors from the East commonly say Varied Thrush is among the endemic Western species they most want to see while here. Its coloration--a mix of purplish greys and rusty orange hues--borders on the gaudy. A person dressed like this would be accused of lacking all fashion sense, but the Varied Thrush wears it well. The size, shape, and woodland habits of Varied Thrush may cause confusion with American Robin if backlit or at a distance, but the two birds are very differently colored. Male Varied Thrush (photo above) has a strong rust-colored stripe over the eye, a dark V-shaped band across the chest, and distinct orange wing bars with other orange patches in the wings--all lacking in the robin. Varied Thrush lacks the white eyering of the robin and the robin's white with black striping at the throat. A robin's bill is yellowish, while Varied Thrush has a mostly dark bill (although often with paler, yellow hints at the base). Female Varied Thrush looks like a washed-out version of the male. The breast band in particular is attenuated in the female. Juveniles look like females, but with a whitish, scaly-looking breast. 

The song of the Varied Thrush is odd and memorable. It sounds robotic--as if generated by a synthesizer. Once heard, never forgotten (link below).  

Selected county sightings: Lake Ralphine (March 28, 2012, Colin Talcroft); Spring Lake (December 22, 2011); Lake Ralphine (December 3, 2011); Sonoma State University Campus (November 3, 2011, Becky Olsen); Spring Lake (December 20, 2010, Ruth Rudesill); Lake Ralphine (January 21, 2010); Stone Castle Lane (January 2, 2007); Stone Castle Lane (January 22, 2007); Stone Castle Lane (January 30, 2007); Stone Castle Lane (January 6, 2004)

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, pg. 98

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 394

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, pg. 358

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, pg. 404

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 504-505

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, pg. 462

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 302

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 357

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 252

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, p. 230

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 58

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 292

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 274

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 344

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 565

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 322

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Varied Thrush



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Varied Thrush, Spring Lake, Santa Rosa, December 22, 2011

Varied Thrush

Ixoreus naevius

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated September 18, 2013

EBird-reported occurrence in Sonoma County