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An old Handbook of Birds of the Eastern United States, copyrighted in 1895 and written by the late Frank Chapman, a noted ornithologist of that time, said, “The Veery appeals to even higher feelings; all the wondrous mysteries of the woods find a voice in his song; he fills us with emotions we cannot express.”
Chapman also made mention that the Veery had a double personality, because on occasion, this bird can give utterance to an entirely uncharacteristic series of “cacking” notes and then even mount high in a tree to sing a hesitating medley of the same unmusical “cacks,” a broken whistled call and attempted trills.
Fortunately, this performance is comparatively uncommon, and, to most of us, the Veery is only known by his beautiful, almost unearthly song. His notes touch chords that no other bird song reaches. Other thrushes such as the Hermit Thrush and Wood Thrush are all certainly inspiring, but the Veery appeals to an even higher feeling. He thrills us with emotions that we can not possibly express. His song has been referred to as a "Spiral, tremendous, silver, thread of music.” You will also notice that the last notes are noticeably softer than the first notes.
Other names for the Veery, is Tawny Thrush and Nightingale. This 7-inch long bird with a 12-inch-wide wingspan has a thick neck and a broad tail, is a warm reddish brown above with very few faint spots on the throat and upper breast and also has a thick neck and a broad tail.
This bird species spends most of the time on the ground, flipping over leaves while searching for insects. The Veery commonly inhabits wet, forested woodlands that are open enough to encourage a fairly dense undergrowth of shrubs or ferns. Essentially it is a bird of the deep woods and the “silent places.”
Its diet is evenly divided between insects and fruit. However they really load up on fruit, when it is the most plentiful, just before the autumn migration. Black tupelo, flowering dogwood, sassafras and spicebush become the major part of their food preference during this time.
The Veery breeds from Newfoundland, Southern Quebec, Southern Ontario, Southern Manitoba, Central Alberta and Southern British Columbia, south to New Jersey, the Eastern mountains all the way down to Northern Georgia, Northern Indiana, Central Iowa, Northern New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Central Oregon. They winter in South America, south to Brazil.
You will begin to notice the Veery in Kentucky during its spring migration during mid-to-late-April. It is also worth a trip to Harlan or Letcher counties in southeastern Kentucky, especially above 2,900 feet in elevation, to find them on their breeding grounds.
I highly recommend a trip to Black Mountain in Harlan County in early May, and you not only will hear the Veery's beautiful song but also will be able to enjoy all of the Trillium wildflowers in bloom. In its more than 4,100 feet in elevation of Black Mountain, there are several other species of birds that nest there, birds that are common in the Northern United States and Southern Canada.
The nest itself is built on or close to the ground, in low shrubs or ferns and may even be in a brush pile. Twigs, weed stalks and grapevines are installed on a pile of leaves that is lined with soft bark strips, rootlets, and grasses. It is a rather large nest for the size of the bird, sometimes with a diameter of 10 inches wide, and will require six to 10 days to build.
The female lays three to five eggs but commonly four, which have smooth shells with a slight gloss. They are pale blue and unmarked and rarely spotted. The female alone incubates these eggs for 11 to 12 days.
Fledged young have been seen by the third week of June.
The Veery is the first member of the thrush family to head south and this usually happens in August.
So, if you want to hear, what is considered to be the most beautiful of the bird songs, then head down to Southeastern Kentucky or up to Muskegon, Mich., about halfway up the lower peninsula at a park adjacent to Lake Michigan, and you will be able to enjoy this natural wonder 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, call 502-682-7711 or write 527 Main St., Shelbyville 40065.