Common Name: Veery
Scientific Name: Catharus fuscescens
(Information for this species page was gathered in part by Ms. Chelsea Walker for Biology 220W in Spring 2009 at Penn State New Kensington)
The veery (Catharus fuscescens) is a small thrush (seven to seven and a half inches long) that occupies a broad summer, breeding range in the deciduous forests across the northern tier of the United States and southern Canada. Also called the “willow thrush” (which emphasizes its preference for willow thickets in the western regions of its range), the veery has a rust-red to olive-brown head, back, and wings and a white underbelly.
Image credit: budgora, Flickr
Its breast is a light, cream-colored, brown with a small number (for a thrush) of dark brown spots. This relative absence of spots makes this species fairly easy to identify, but its very restricted, deep woods habitat causes it to be only rarely seen.
The veery overwinters in the tropical rainforests of southeastern and central Brazil. During migration the veery flies at altitudes of over 1.2 miles and can cover up to 160 miles in a single night. The veery has a low percentage of body fat compared to other thrushes and, so, must regularly stop along its migration route to feed and re-fuel.
The veery’s preferred summer habitats are thickets located near streams or other bodies of water in the dark, humid, deciduous forests of the northern United States or southern Canada. They build their nests either in the tangles of the branches in the low, multi-stemmed shrubs or on the ground in the shelter of these woody plants. Veeries readily make use of a number of exotic, invasive plants (like multiflora rose and barberry) for their nesting sites. Veeries prefer mature forest sites with large, emergent trees and a complex canopy over their dense, shrubby understory. Sugar maple, American beech, ironwood, and white ash are all trees frequently found in optimal veery habitats. A dense leaf cover on the ground is also a critical habitat feature for veery occupied sites.
Mating and Reproduction
Male veeries return to their summer ranges in late April or early May. They compete for mating territories primarily via songs. Females arrive in these territories a week or so later and select mates, again, primarily via their songs. After mating, the female builds the open-cup shaped nest out of bark, twigs, and weeds. The nest, as mentioned above, may be in the low branches of a densely stemmed shrub or on the ground under the cover of the plant. Females lay between three and five eggs and are responsible for the ten to twelve day incubation. During this incubation period the male feeds the female. Nestlings grow quickly and will fledge in ten to twelve days. Both the male and the female feed the nestlings during this period of time.
Veery eggs and nestlings are preyed upon by a variety of rodents (including the white footed mouse), chipmunks, and raccoons. Raptors (like the Coopers hawk) also prey upon young and mature veeries. Veeries are able to have a second clutch of eggs if climate and resources allow.
Veeries eat insects and fruit (especially berries) in proportions that vary with the season and their relative availabilities. Most commonly, they can be seen foraging in the leaf litter, scratching and flipping dry leaves in their search for insects and other invertebrates. They may also fly from perches to grab passing insects in flight and hover near standing vegetation to gather insects. Berries are a particularly important food for veeries in the late summer and early fall. The high sugar and fat content especially of native berries help to prepare veeries for their long, fall migrations.
Cowbirds parasitize veery nests especially when the nests are located near the edges of their forest habitats. Forests that have been fragmented by human activity have particularly high rates of cowbird brood parasitism, while un-fragmented, deep forest sites have quite low rates of cowbird intrusion.
The song of the veery is one of the great pleasures of our deep, deciduous forest systems. Males singing territory, calling to their mates, and simply maintaining their place and position fill the dark forests with their musical, flute-like song. The song is often described as “da-vee-ur, vee-ur, veer, veer,” and it is the source of the bird’s common name.