What is the State Bird of Vermont? (And Why?)

Vermont is the sixth smallest state by area and the second least populated state in the United States. Most of the Vermont geography is coniferous woodland and open land, which is suitable for agriculture. The state animal for Vermont is the Morgan Horse, but what is the state bird?

The state of Vermont chose the Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) as the state bird in 1941. The small, brown, and cream bird with a spotted bib lives in the state during all seasons except winter. Like many migratory birds, it flies south to escape the harsh winter temps and snow of northern states like Vermont.

The state bird for Vermont, the Hermit Thrush

The state bird for Vermont, the Hermit Thrush

Why is the Hermit Thrush the state bird for Vermont?

Nature groups that supported the hermit thrush fought in front of them because some of the legislators favored the crow or blue jay. Hermit Thrushes remain in the state of Vermont all year-round. While those legislators accused the bird of not being a “true Vermonter,” others persevered, and the hermit thrush won the day for its “distinctive sweet call” and residence in all 14 of the state’s counties.

When did the hermit thrush become the state bird for Vermont?

The state of Vermont legislature adopted the hermit thrush as state bird on June 1, 1941. The state legislators made the naming of the bird their first legislative act passed of the 1941 session. Vermont doesn’t share its state bird with any other state.

Hermit Thrush singing

Hermit Thrush singing

What does the state bird look like?

Hermit Thrushes have rust-colored tails that stand out against their olive-brown to gray-brown main color. Their flanks appear gray or buff, and they have a spotted breast and throat. On their faces, notice their distinct white eye-ring. Their rust-red tail provides the brightest feathers on their body with red also appearing in flight feathers.

Both genders grow to about 6.75 inches in length. You might consider these shorter, stockier thrushes as the bruisers of the avian world. They don’t weigh more than most other birds though, at a median range of between 0.63 to 1.31 ounces. They have a wingspan of about 11.5 inches.

Hermit Thrush perched on a branch

Hermit Thrush perched on a branch

How do these birds behave?

These birds love the interior forests of Vermont, especially those near ponds. In late fall, they migrate to a warmer climate south of Pennsylvania. They exhibit a fierce territorial nature, defending both their breeding territory and their wintering territory. The bird chooses wintering habitats marked by dense cover, woody plants, and berry-producing bushes.

Once spring returns, the hermit thrush returns to Vermont, arriving in April. The male of the species arrives first, staking out breeding territory. The nesting season of these thrushes ranges from mid-May to mid-August. They typically mate to create only one brood per nesting season.

The male hermit thrush plays hard to get. When the female of the species arrives in the breeding territory, he behaves in a hostile manner for three or four days. The male chases the female in circular patterns during this time. He then accepts that it is time to settle down and accepts the female.

Like many bird species, the female has the construction skills in the family. She builds their cup nest either in a small tree or on the ground. While many bird species have a preference for one or the other, this thrush does both. The bird hides the nest artfully and constructs it twigs, ferns, bark strips, and mud. She lines this with soft materials found in nature.

A the Hermit Thrush on the look out for predators

A the Hermit Thrush on the look out for predators

Do hermit thrushes form communities?

You might guess by its name that the hermit thrush keeps to itself. These loving birds do form couples, though. They take family life very seriously, parenting their brood equally. While the female incubates the eggs, the male takes care of all the food acquisition.

The pair copulate, and the female lays three to five pale blue eggs. She incubates these eggs, typically for 12 days, during which time the male guards the nest and “shops” for food. He feeds the female during these weeks of copulation and incubation since she cannot leave the eggs unattended. When he guards the nest, the male chooses a perch that provides a good view of the nest and all around it. He vigilantly chases off any approaching predator.

When their chicks are born, they have no feathers, and their eyes are closed. Their eyes open three to four days post-birth. The couple cares for their young together. The babies develop feathers at seven days, and they fledge, meaning they learn to fly, at 12 days of age. Until they can fend for themselves, the dad bird hunts and forages for them, feeding his family.

Members of the thrush family live an average of eight years and eight months in the wild. Other thrushes have lived up to 10 to 13 years, but that is the highest range.

A Hermit Thrush with a dragonfly in its beak

A Hermit Thrush with a dragonfly in its beak

What do hermit thrushes eat?

The diet of the hermit thrush depends on the time of year and its location. During its Vermont time, it eats insects, small invertebrates, but rarely vegetation. That it saves for migration meals. Look for this bird to dine on ants, beetles, caterpillars, crickets, earthworms, grasshoppers, snails, and salamanders during the majority of the year. During migration, the bird dines on fruit, including grapes, raspberries, pokeberries, elderberries, and serviceberries.

These birds typically forage on the ground. They turn over leaves to expose insects or forage in trees or other vegetation. You can draw them to your yard by playing on these food loves. Plant a berry bush in your yard or offer a bird feeder stocked with suet, grapes, and raisins. Creating a small brush pile can help you draw earthworms to your yard. If you combine these strategies, you can attract at least one couple of these birds.

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