Readers ask questions regarding area thrushes

Photo by Hans Toom/Pixabay • Hermit thrushes, such as this individual, are winter visitors to the region. The hermit thrush is related to other members of the thrush family, including Eastern bluebird, American robin and wood thrush.


Carol Garland of Unicoi contacted me via Facebook Messenger about my recent column in the Johnson City Press about bluebirds.

“I have several bluebirds in my yard this year,” Carol wrote in her message.  “I have had a couple maybe every year, but this fall I saw eight on a bush in my yard.”

She described the bush as having purplish berries.

“Bless them, they cleaned it, and I was so glad to have something they could eat,” she continued.  “I don’t know what kind it is but wondered if you would have any idea.”

I suggested that the bush might likely be either a privet, if the berries are very dark purple to almost black, or a beautyberry if the berries are a brighter, almost orchid-like purple.

Most privet plants produce masses of purple-black berries which are fairly popular with birds that spread the seeds widely. Similarly, American beautyberry, also known as French mulberry, produces large clusters of bright purple berries, which birds and deer eat, thus distributing the seeds.

Carol also asked if I knew where she could buy live meal worms for her bluebirds.

“I am going to see if I can get a couple of houses for them, but they must have some places around because they have been here most of the winter,” she added.

For mealworms, I suggested that Carol contact the Wild Birds Unlimited store on W. Market Street in Johnson City. Gardening centers might also be a likely source for either live or freeze-dried mealworms. Searching online would likely provide plenty of possibilities for acquiring this favorite protein source for bluebirds.

Eastern bluebirds are a member of the thrush family of birds, which consists of several species fond of both insects and fruit.

I also heard from Susan Peters of Elizabethton on the subject of bluebirds and other thrushes.

“I really enjoyed your bluebird column, as I am sure so many others did,” Susan wrote in an email to me. “It prompted me to check that my bluebird houses were clean and free of other occupancies.”

She added that she has seen bluebirds in her birdbath with a bit of snow on the edges of the bath. She added that she has a heater in the bath to keep the water thawed during cold spells.

“They are a wonderful winter sight,” she wrote.

“I was wondering if you thought it was possible for a hermit thrush to be in my yard under the feeders,” she also queried. “My identification skills are purely amateur, but in checking my Peterson books, I think I saw one for several days.”

She described the bird as a bit smaller than a wood thrush with a bit more olive color, a white eyering and showing spots/stripes on its breast.

“I really thought the thrushes were migratory,” she wrote.

In a reply I explained that most thrushes are migratory. In a sense, even the hermit thrush, a winter resident in the region, is migratory. It simply migrates to the area from the more northern locations that provide breeding habitat for the species.

According to Tennessee Watchable Wildlife on the website of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the hermit thrush is primarily a winter visitor to Tennessee arriving in early October and departing by late April. The same holds true for western North Carolina and southwest Virginia.


The entry at Tennessee Watchable Wildlife describes this thrush as a quiet, unobtrusive bird spending most of its time foraging in the leaf litter or in berry-filled tangles at the forest edge.

Susan described seeing the thrush as a real treat.

“The hermit thrush was my mother’s favorite bird,” she wrote.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A hermit thrush perches on a fence in March in South Carolina. These thrushes are winter residents in much of the eastern United States.

Susan wrote that her mother always called the hermit and wood thrushes “deedle-deedle” birds because of their calls.

“My hermit thrush visits under the feeders almost every morning,” she wrote in a followup email. “What a treat. Thanks again for the confirmation.”

To share sightings, ask questions or make comments, email me at

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