Outdoors

Listen for the song of the veery

Bird-watching: Robin-shaped bird has unique, spectacular sound

A veery is photographed earlier this month Squaw Creek Park in Marion. (Brandon Caswell/correspondent)
A veery is photographed earlier this month Squaw Creek Park in Marion. (Brandon Caswell/correspondent)
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Bird sounds typically resound from all around us, but especially in the spring and into early summer.

By early June, many of Iowa’s songbird species already are breeding. In fact, some may have fledged young.

One Iowa breeder in lower and isolated numbers is the veery. The song of the veery is unique and among the most spectacular of North American bird songs. Wintering in South America, most of these birds push through Iowa in mid-May, with breeding grounds farther up in Minnesota and southern Canada.

If you happen to hear a downward-spiraling song in the early morning, with an almost metallic-like quality, then you’ve probably heard a veery.

There are several select Iowa locations in which veery breed and some are in Eastern Iowa. One of the more documented locations is Backbone State Park in Delaware County. I have done some birding in this gorgeous state park in early June and every time I have heard or seen a veery.

Like many similarly related thrush species, the veery prefers hardwood forests with closed canopy and well-developed understory.

Being a thrush, the veery is shaped like a robin. It typically has upper parts that are a light-orange to light-cinnamon color. The throat is usually lightly spotted and either white or faintly orange. The rest of the underside is white.

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In the shadows, veery may resemble other similarly related species, like hermit or gray-cheeked thrush, but a good look out of the shadows is usually unmistakable. One thing to note, and while rarely heard, is that gray-cheeked thrush has a similar song, however it spirals upward instead of downward.

Another more common Iowa nester in the dense woods is the wood thrush. Like the veery, wood thrush have a really distinct, metallic-like song. They tend to sing from higher perches around dawn, but can be heard intermittently throughout the day. If you have a stand of dense woods nearby, you have the chance to hear this species.

The wood thrush also is robin-shaped, being a reddish-brown on the upper side and white with distinct spotting on the underside. They are superficially a larger version of an ovenbird, which is a ground nesting wood warbler. Ovenbirds nest in Iowa as well.

OTHER BIRDS TO LOOK FOR IN JUNE

l Bell’s vireo and white-eyed vireo breed in the scrubby habitat at the north terminus of Strawn Road, which is along the southern side of Pleasant Creek near Palo. Grassland habitat in the area is a good place to look for Henslow’s sparrow and perhaps bobolink.

l Scarlet tanagers breed in mature forests. The south ravine at Squaw Creek Park in Marion is a great place to look for them. Also look out for redheaded and pileated woodpecker.

l The marsh just southwest of Center Point, along E16, can host several nesting marsh bird species. These included green heron, common gallinule and least bittern. Several nesting waterfowl species might be there as well.

PHOTOGRAPHY ADVICE

A controversial topic with a wide range of views: using playbacks. People also refer to this as “using a tape” or “a recording.” Playbacks of a bird’s song is often used to bring in a singing male for better viewing. Singing male birds become fiercely territorial when they hear an opponent, not surprisingly investigating the source of the sound. Playbacks are used in North Africa to bring birds migrating south over the Mediterranean into the nets of local bird harvesters.

In Iowa, using playbacks should be used in a limited manner. The use of a recording in spring on an Iowa nesting species is typically discouraged in the birding community. Many migrants that breed further north sing as they migrate through. These birds, as they won’t set up breeding territories, are better candidates for playbacks. Again, use playbacks sparingly to bring in birds for a closer look or for a better photo opportunity.

BIRDING CALENDAR

l June 5, 8 a.m. — Kent Park Bird Walk with leader Rick Hollis. Meet at the Kent Park CEC.

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l June 8, 6:30 a.m. — Indiangrass Hills in Iowa County for breeding grassland birds. Expect to see Henslow’s sparrows, grasshopper sparrows, sedge wrens and bobolinks. There will be extensive walking on mowed grass paths through this 600-acre restored prairie. Meet leader Mark Brown at Kohl’s parking lot, 2795 Commerce Dr., Coralville. Return time is early afternoon.

l June 15, 8 a.m.-noon — Turkey Vulture Festival at the Coralville Dam East Overlook jointly hosted by the Iowa City Bird Club and Army Corps of Engineers, featuring exhibits, games, face painting and Gonzo the Turkey Vulture.

l June 19, 8 a.m. — Kent Park Bird Walk with leader Rick Hollis. Meet at the Kent Park CEC.

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