Turdus grayi, Xkook (Maya)
Sleepy friends ask me which bird thrusts an early morning melody upon them in the spring and summer.
Merida has a variety of songsters and noisemakers. White-winged Doves call out for their mates from January to August. Tropical Mockingbirds are often heard with their territorial calls. Male Grayish Saltators add their pick-up lines to their local “hook-up bars” in the trees. At dawn and dusk Great-tailed Grackles depart from city parks and plazas in a raucous cacophony. Both the Red-lored and White-fronted Parrots squawk out their contact calls in flight. But in my Centro neighborhood, the leader of the band is the Clay-colored Thrush. Before early morning to late evening, this thrush sings a variety of calls and songs. One call reminds me of a cat “mewing”.
The Clay-colored Thrush looks like a washed-out robin with its drab, pale buff to brownish plumage, streaky throat, and reddish-brown eyes. At least the yellowish bill adds color to the plainness. When it quickly flies by, some birders may call it, “LBJ,” in bird jargon or “Little Brown Job”. It’s not so little because it’s about the length of a tv remote.
Locals and visitors don’t seem to see this bird. Maybe they don’t notice it because this thrush forages alone or with its mate on the ground in the shadows for earthworms, slugs, insects, and fruits. However, an entire flock may feed in a fruiting tree.
This dull-colored species has achieved an incredible honor as the national bird of Costa Rica, a country overflowing with colorful birds. Its song equates with the start of the rainy season there and many people see it near their homes. In Yucatan, their songs are heard April through October, especially after a rainfall. In fact, I hear one singing in my backyard as I write this mid-day.
Common in lawns and gardens, this brown bird lives in open woods and clearings such as pastures with a few trees, city parks and homes, and fruit groves. Widespread throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, it ranges from E. Mexico to N. Colombia. Plus it occasionally visits and breeds in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
Although references state the Clay-colored Thrush will defend its nest, this species isn’t considered particularly territorial. Another source stated a female thrush flew across several acres to discourage a world-renowned ornithologist from her nest. In Merida, I watched this species defend an area more than 100 feet from its nest against fifteen other species in one tree including an adult Gray Hawk plus other Clay-colored Thrushes.
Take time to enjoy all the birds, even those with plain clothes.
Sound link: http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/165821
Nature’s wonders inspire Cherie Pittillo, a wildlife photographer, zoologist, and author. Follow her friendly, feathered journey as she discovers the birds of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Editorial and Photography by Cherie Pittillo for use in Yucatán Today
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