Mystery Bird! ID Help Needed!

So we have a very handsome but unfamiliar avian guest in our backyard. He (or she) was first seen snacking on sunflower seeds on the platform feeder about three days ago. Since then, this mystery bird has been a regular presence.

Varied Thrush, Eastern Meadowlark
Varied Thrush? Eastern Meadowlark?

Probably a member of the Thrush Family, shaped like a Robin but bigger.  Very different from anyone we’ve seen in the garden before.

Varied Thrush

After consulting Sibley’s, we can think of two possibilities. First, it might possibly be an Eastern Meadowlark. Meadowlarks are not unknown in the Chicago area. However, the illustrations I’ve seen don’t look as dark or as orange as our new guest.

Varied Thrush

Also, our back garden is the wrong sort of habitat. Meadowlarks are birds of open fields –  hence the name. The only place nearby where they have been known to nest is a golf course with naturalistic prairie landscaping. Our yard is in filtered shade, with mature deciduous trees – cottonwoods, silver maples, and exotic elms.

The other possibility is Varied Thrush. Problem with the Varied Thrush is, their normal range is along the West Coast of the USA and Canada, extending into the western Rocky Mountains. They have been spotted further east, but very rarely.

ID help needed! Anybody out there want to venture an opinion?

35 Comments on “Mystery Bird! ID Help Needed!

  1. What a coincidence! I can’t believe you are asking about this bird. I’ve been seeing this bird for the past couple of days also and I was wondering what kind of bird it is. I hope someone out there knows…Im so curious!

  2. It’s a Varied Thrush. Not unheard of in Chicago during the winter (there was one at the Botanical Gardens in December), but definitely worth reporting!

  3. Looks like a Varied Thrush, for sure!! Can you give your local Audubon branch a call? They would probably like to hear about one so far out of range, and may not had received reports yet. How exciting, beautiful bird and you’re so lucky to have such a striking visitor!!

  4. Would you be willing to let people visit your yard? I would love to see this bird! I am conducting a Cook County Big Year this year and any bird this great needs to be chased. My blog about my year is:

  5. As many others have noted, definitely a varied thrush. They tend to stick to rural areas in summer but will venture more into the public eye in winter to grab some food. Beautiful birds, lucky you to have one visit.

  6. As the person who took the photos, let me just say that it is a very gray day in Chicago, and I am shooting through a window. So I let iPhoto do a bit of autocorrecting, which brightened the photos, perhaps a bit too much. The bird is very definitely orange, but a shade or two lighter than it appears here. Not as bright as a Baltimore oriole! But very clearly brighter than anything else similar I had seen, so I knew right away when I saw it that we had something new. I’m very pleased that is has hung around for a couple of days. Of course, it is supposed to keep raining in Chicago until Thursday, so I don’t know if I will get a better photo.

  7. That is a varied thrush. One or 2 will regularly pop up in the winter here far away from their breeding grounds far out in the northwest. I would love to see and photograph this bird if possible if you would permit. I can be reached at I live in St Charles. I hope this nasty ice/rainstorm does not chase him off for you

    Thanks, Mark Bowman

  8. This is the Midwestern Kee Kee bird which is most easily identified by it’s winter call: Kee-kee-kee-kee-ripes it’s cold!

  9. Hi Jason, now this link goes direct to this post, easier now for me, hehe! It looks like our garden are the same, lights filtered by mature trees, but ours are perennially green, none is deciduous. Even if we can’t produce nice vegies, i am glad that birds not frequenting our yard are now content with the high roosting areas. And more sounds are heard now!

  10. How fun to see a new bird! Years ago, I saw a bright orange bird similar to this. I had no idea what it was, and have never seen another like it. But I still have fond memories of my visit by an unusual bird. So glad you got photos of yours – and an identification!

  11. Thanks Jerry and Judy for allowing visitors! Your hospitality has been much appreciated. I know for many people, this is a life bird and it is definitely a great bird for the Chicago area.

  12. Great photos! What a sweet and pretty little guy!! Thanks for the advice on the grasses. I have Carl Forester and need to move it’s a bit stiff in my opinion. I think you are right on the switchgrass…any recommendations for a small tree or shrub for an island bed I’m doing in the front???

  13. Depends on the size you want. Sargent crab apples are good, also Serviceberries like ‘Autumn Brilliance’. I like flowering dogwood but lots of people are leery because of anthracnose. Aronia – chokeberry – are nice, both the black and red-berried species. I don’t have fringetree (Chionanthus), but I’ve read and heard great things about it.

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