For the Birds: Brown thrasher — talkative entertainer

Photo by Chris Bosak A brown thrasher checks out its surroundings in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A brown thrasher checks out its surroundings in New England.

It’s usually not easy and this time was no exception. It took a little coaxing to get the bird to show itself.

Eventually the brown thrasher flew out of the thicket and landed at the top of a tall shrub to check out its surroundings and sing a few notes. Once a brown thrasher gets going vocally, it rarely lacks for something to say. It can go on and on for hours.

This bird, however, instead of breaking into its incredible repertoire of songs and mimicry, simply repeated its nonmusical call note.

 I watched for a long time as the bird afforded me a close view. From my experiences, brown thrashers are usually skittish, but every so often one will allow for long observation. Another problem is, I don’t find them often enough. A few times a year is about the extent of my brown thrasher sightings.

Many conservationists worry about the status of the brown thrasher. Most would agree that the population is in decline, but the extent to which is up for debate. From my experiences, I’ve never had much luck finding them, so it’s hard for me to form an opinion based on my own anecdotal evidence.

I do know that it would be a shame if the brown thrasher disappeared from our landscape. They are fairly large for songbirds (about 12 inches long) and handsome with rusty brown plumage and spotted breast. The piercing yellow eyes and long bill add to the bird’s tough reputation (it’s not called a thrasher for nothing).

Thrashers are fiercely territorial, just like their relatives mockingbirds and catbirds. I read somewhere that brown thrashers have actually drawn blood from humans who have encroached on their comfort zone. I think I’d back away before vexing a thrasher to that point.

Also similar to mockingbirds and catbirds, brown thrashers are mimics and have a dizzying repertoire of songs, usually sung from a high perch and repeated over and over. I’ve heard mockingbirds show off their list of songs dozens of times and it’s one of my favorite nature experiences. I’ve heard brown thrashers only on rare occasions, but even hearing it once was enough to be impressed. 

I remember several years ago hearing a brown thrasher belt out its tunes from a distant perch. I couldn’t for the life of me find the bird, but I listened in amazement at the bird’s repertoire. I listened for a good long time and I don’t think it repeated any phrases.

Finally I found the bird at the very top of a tall tree. It usually sings from a lower, more obvious perch. In general, however, brown thrashers are tough to find because they would rather lurk in the thickets than show off in the open. They also spend a fair amount of time on the ground, scratching for worms, insects and other food.

Thrashers, also like mockingbirds and catbirds, are rarely, if ever, found at birdfeeders. I did see a thrasher scratching at the ground under my birdbath once, and I’ve also had luck attracting catbirds to feeders with orange slices. Mockingbirds will sometimes visit suet feeders, too, Brown thrashers are migratory so now is a good time to find them in unusual places as they rest up for their flights south. It takes a little luck, but perhaps one will visit your yard this fall. Let me know if they do.

1 thought on “For the Birds: Brown thrasher — talkative entertainer

  1. thank you for this… listened to the call on the cornell site, which pointed out the difference between wood thrasher and mockingbird songs (two repetitions vs three?) enjoy your posts so much.


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