Bicknell’s Thrush

This morning Ingrid and I loaded into a van with eight other crazy birders and headed up the Mt. Washington Auto Road in quest of a highly sought after bird. . . the Bicknell’s Thrush.  It’s a tiny brownish bird with a raspy, uninteresting song  . . . so why is the Bicknell’s so fascinating to birders?

Because the Bicknell’s is so challenging to find!!!!

  • This bird nests exclusively on mountains above 3,600 feet or just below the tree line, so one has to get up a mountain to find one.

  • The Bicknell’s nests only in Upstate New York, New England, Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes. If you elsewhere, you have to travel.

  • It’s a very secretive bird, preferring to feed on insects in dense stands of stunted balsam fir (“krummholz”).

  • The best way to find a Bicknell’s Thrush is to listen for its “singing” . . . a raspy tangle of notes, or for its call . . . more or less a cough.  And, they only sing from late May through mid-June.

  • Finally, they are almost never seen during migration, somehow arriving at their wintering grounds in the Dominican Republic without being detected.


Our van made its first stop on Mt. Washington this morning at about 5,000 feet.  It was supposedly 60 degrees, but the wind on Mt. Washington is always a factor . . . and it felt cold.  Due to the constant pounding of the elements, “trees” at this altitude only come up to one’s waist . . . even though they may be a hundred years old.

Fun fact: Mt. Washington holds the record for highest measured wind speed (231 miles per hour) on the planet.

We could faintly hear a couple of Bicknell’s singing, but the wind made it difficult to get a fix on the sound.  I think I saw one fly across a ledge and drop back into the krummholz. But, I couldn’t be sure.

After an hour of futile searching, we moved about 400 yards down the mountain where the wind wasn’t as strong. Here we could hear a Bicknell’s quite well through the “trees”.

Ingrid Recording

After a while, our birding posse began to walk down the road, and I was able to hear one of our quarry calling in the dense vegetation as we walked.

Suddenly, I saw a Bicknell’s Thrush sitting atop a branch singing . . . I have never gotten such a good view . . . it was only 20 feet away.  I quickly called the other birders, and there ensued much rejoicing and back slapping!!!

Ingrid got some great video, and we’ll include it in this week’s Big Year Recap.




  1. By Kathy Rawdon -

    Glad you also had a great visual and we’re able to get others on it.I like the info about the bird that you include. Waiting for next installment.
    Thank you, Kathy

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