A true ‘voice of the wild’

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Louisiana Water-Thrush finds homes near small, wooded streams

The first time I ever saw a Louisiana Water-Thrush was when it was standing on a rather large rock out in the middle of a running tributary of Big Beech Creek in Shelby County.

He was reared back and singing his heart out for the entire world to hear. What a wonderful introduction it was.

Elder ornithologists have described his song as a striking exuberance with a ringing, weird quality, which tends to make this warbling song a true voice of the wild.

Once you are able to recognize this song, just hearing it will always be thrilling. As a matter of fact, this song seems so emotional to the bird itself that it becomes most difficult to even describe. One appreciative listener, in a very old bird book, describes the song of the Louisiana Water-Thrush as, and I quote, “Loud, clear, and exquisitely sweet beginning with a burst of melody, which becomes softer and more delicate, until the last notes die away, lost in the ripple of the stream, above which the bird is gently perched.”

It also has a flight song described in another old bird book as “A thrilling performance, which carries the bird above the tree tops in an uncontrollable musical ecstasy.”

The Louisiana Water-Thrush is actually a species of warbler and not a thrush, although it can be said that it does somewhat resemble certain members of the thrush family. This similarity begins to end once you consider that it is only 6-inches long with a 10-inch wingspan, which makes it smaller than those thrush family members that have spotted breasts and are exquisite singers.

Also its back is an olive-brown color, its breast is grayish-white streaked with black and it has long white eyebrows and an all white throat, only in the adults. Its mannerisms are also totally different in that this bird, moves quick and fast, and is seldom at rest. It also constantly teeters like a Spotted Sandpiper. It is commonly referred to as a "Water Wagtail" and is one of the few birds that walk. This Water-Thrush feeds largely aquatic insects and their larvae, as well as seeds and fruit. It was probably more plentiful, when noted ornithologist John James Audubon was in Kentucky in 1861. Since that time, many miles of Kentucky's navigable streams have been cleared and channelized, ruining the bird’s habitat

The Louisiana Water-Thrush breeds from Massachusetts, Southern Ontario, Southeastern Minnesota and Eastern Nebraska, south to eastern South Carolina, Northern Georgia, Southern Alabama and northeast Texas. It winters from south Florida and the Bahamas south to the lesser Antilles and from northern Mexico to Colombia.

It is one of the two earliest wood warblers to arrive from migration in the spring and can be seen and heard singing in Kentucky before April 1. Nesting will begin soon after and early clutches may be completed during the last week of April, with a completion peak in the first 10 days of May and later clutches completed into early June.

The nest is usually in a root system, just below an overhanging bank of a stream and carefully hidden by roots, weeds or grass. It is a bulky, well insulated mass of dead, wet leaves packed close together and reinforced by twigs with the cup in the top and lined with dry grasses, small rootlets, plant stems and hair.

The cup of the nest has an outside diameter of 3-and-a-half inches, its height can vary up to 8 inches or more, the inside diameter and depth are about 2-and-a-half inches.

Both sexes spend four to six days building this nest with the female being the most active. There is a definite pathway of leaves that leads to the nest, however, no matter how quietly you approach the adult pair will always be aware of you.

The female lays four to six smooth shelled eggs with a slight gloss. They are white to creamy white and dotted, spotted and botched with brown and grays. Incubation is by the female, alone, for 12 to 14 days and only one brood is raised.

So get out in late March and early April, go to Backbone Creek just above Trailwood Lake or down below Salem Church to a small tributary just north of Big Beech Creek or some other small, wooded stream and look and listen for the Louisiana Water-Thrush pouring his heart out for his lady love, in the great outdoors.


To read more columns about birds by Horace Brown, visit www.SentinelNews.com/recreation. Horace Brown is a civil/sanitary engineer, land surveyor and nature photographer and writer. To contact him or order a copy of Brown’s 2014 Eagles, Falcons, Hawks & Vultures Calendar, E-mail whbrownpelpls@aol.com, call 502-682-7711 or write 527 Main St., Shelbyville 40065.