The Prodigal Returns

Thrush-Bob‘s back,” said my husband, at around nine in the morning.

“Hggghhhzz,” I said. I was getting the first decent night’s sleep I’d had in a week, as we were finally back from a family death-march to Disneyworld. I have a limited tolerance for Mandatory Family Togetherness at the best of times, and this one had included drama, sickness, teenage boy unending commentary, and a mattress like a cinderblock. On the trip home, a truck had thrown a shredded tire directly under my car doing seventy, which means that parts of my car are now held together with duct tape and I had to buy a souvenir alligator head at a gas station in order to borrow pliers, and then I wound up getting a new tire at a Walmart in Georgia and don’t even ask me about my alignment.

“The thrush,” said my husband patiently. “On the deck. From last year. He’s back.”

This slowly penetrated through the pillow. “Thrush-Bob? No way.”

“He’s on the deck.”

“It’s a different bird.”

“If you say so. He does the flutter-at-the-window trick to demand food, though.”

“He would have had to fly, like, a thousand miles to get back here! He breeds in Canada!”

“Well, he wanted mealworms. I took care of it.”

I went back to sleep.

This morning, as I staggered around the kitchen (why is there no milk in this house? Do you expect me to drink my coffee black? Did our ancestors fight and die in vain?) I saw three of our cats glued to the window onto the deck. I leaned over to look out the window.

And there, on the edge of the potted spicebush where he always preferred to hang out, idily flicking his reddish tail…


(Okay, I’m cheating, this is a shot from last year—I’ve been back from Florida for twelve hours, cut me some slack.)

If it isn’t Thrush-Bob, it’s at least a hermit thrush, and one that has mysteriously acclimated to the deck and knows that the bald human in the kitchen will provide dried mealworms if you can attract his attention. Given how shy and retiring hermit thrushes are supposed to be…well.

I went on-line.

While I can’t figure out what to google for “getting the same hermit thrush on your deck two years running” I did discover that hermit thrushes can live for over eight years (probably ten or twelve.) I’m never sure how smart birds are, but he knows how to migrate, and if a salmon can find its way back to the ancestral spawning stream, there’s no reason a thrush couldn’t head back to the deck where he knows that there will be an open patch of water at the frog pond and the feeders will be topped up with tasty thrush treats.  (Hermit thrushes, as it happens, will only winter where they have an expectation of open water all winter. I go bash a hole in the ice in the morning during our rare hard freezes, and there are usually birds at it before I’ve even finished trudging back to the house.)

Given the sum of all evidence, it seems more improbable that it would be a different thrush—it took Thrush-Bob over a week to move from lurking in the yard to his perch on the deck, and this one’s right up, front and center, going “Where are my mealworms? I’ve been waiting DAYS!”  (I am used to this behavior from hummingbirds, who easily associate humans with full feeders and will make their demands known. It’s a little weird when it’s a hermit thrush.)

And hell, I can start in Florida and drive hundreds of miles and still wind up at the exact same house I left from, and nobody considers that an extraordinary feat of navigation and survival.* So perhaps I am simply giving Thrush-Bob too little credit.

When he migrated off last spring, I wished him well and didn’t ever expect to see him again. Now that he’s back, I’m delighted and a little alarmed—now he’s a resident! Now I have to worry if he doesn’t show up next fall!

Now I have to go and buy more mealworms…!


*Except me. Because there were two teenage boys in the car. I could give Thor Heyerdahl a run for his money.

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  1. Marilyn says

    This just makes my day. What a wonderful story to start out the week with! Now there is one bird that knows what he wants.

  2. Suzanne Dingwell says

    Ursala, thanks as always for the chipper start to a Monday morning! It’s known fact that there are birds that can actually recognize individual human faces, and some return to a favorite nest spot each year. So it’s not even a stretch to think that your mealworm drive through is on one birds road map! What a great story. Welcome back, Thrush-Bob!

  3. says

    So delighted to hear this story! I remember your previous post about Thrush-Bob. It is fascinating to think he has returned. I hear you, though, I would worry, too, if he didn’t return again next year and I would be rushing out to stock up on mealworms, too! I am hoping for a pair of Titmice to return this winter. A thrush would push me over the edge! Which reminds me, I need to order some vittles for the birds…

  4. Sherry Barton says

    What a hoot! Thanks Ursula!! I must be overly optimistic. I always think the same birds come back year after year, as if my little oasis is special, somehow!! :) Glad you made it back safely- love your perspective.

  5. says

    Love your Thrush-Bob!

    Re: winter water: highly recommended for those in icy/snowy climates is the electric birdbath. I sent one to my sister in North Carolina (one with fake rock edges, that sits on the ground) and it continues to offer ice-free winter water several years later, to great rejoicing from her backyard wildlife.

    Re: hummingbirds: I have had three successful nests on my apartment patio in a ficus tree, and the birds are so thoroughly habituated that I have had a hummer fly *into my kitchen* through the patio door to demand food.

  6. Sandy says

    A sadder story. I was Thrilled to have a small group of Hermits hanging in our Vermont yard in early October—migrating through and chowing down on the crickets on the patio and on the elderberries. Alas, one day I came home to find two of the dead, side by side, on the patio, in front of a window. They had both clearly flown into the window. I immediately put up bunches of painters tape—but it was too late. I felt so awful. These deep wood birds are not used to windows, the windows were recently washed and quite reflective … If any return next year, the tape is going up right away.

  7. Glenn Parsons says

    I also have a “Thrush Bob” that has returned for the last four years. The mannerisms of this bird are always the same i.e. sits on the same perch, etc. He always arrived the week before Thanksgiving.

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