Environment & Science

'Invasion' of rare varied thrush birds in Southern California

A female Varied Thrush in Washington, USA. Similar birds are showing up as far south as Los Angeles.
A female Varied Thrush in Washington, USA. Similar birds are showing up as far south as Los Angeles.
Minette Layne via Creative Commons

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A rare and striking bird is showing up in large numbers in Southern California.

It's called the varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius) and it has deep yellow and black stripes with patches of white on its underside.

Normally, this species lives in the Pacific Northwest and travels no further south than San Francisco

For some reason, this year is different.

"It’s turning up in all these parks and just flying overhead and people are seeing it in all these weird places," said Dan Cooper, an L.A. based biologist and birder watcher.

In addition to it's eye catching color, the varied thrush also has a distinct bird call that sounds almost like a tea kettle whistling.

Dan Cooper's been carrying his binoculars with him in hopes of spotting the bird during this unusual "invasion," as he called to it.

Kimball Garrett, the ornithology collections manager at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, said in previous years bird watchers would be lucky to see one or two varied thrush around L.A.

This year he says there are dozens.

Garrett isn't sure what's driving them south. It might be due to a lack of food in their native region, or perhaps a varied thrush baby boom is forcing the population to spread out.

Either way, the thrush isn’t expected to upset the ecosystem of native birds. And for birders, it's a great chance to see a neat bird without traveling north.