SIB “Bird of the Week” – Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher along the West Ashley Greenway – Bob Mercer

Brown ThrasherToxostoma rufum

L 11.5” WS 13” WT 2.4 oz

In the family of Mimidae, they are related to other frequent visitors to Seabrook, the Northern Mockingbird and Gray Catbird. Brown Thrashers are fairly large, slender songbirds with long proportions—the legs are long and sturdy, and the bill is long and slightly downcurved. The tail is long, too, and often cocked upward in the manner of wrens. They are a year-round resident of the southeast. Brown thrashers are accomplished songsters. They are thought to have more than 1,100 different song types, with clearly paired rhythm, each usually repeated two times between each set. Imitations include Chuck-will’s-widows, wood Thrushes, and Northern Flickers.

Generally the Brown Thrashers are secretive, and hard to spot in their favorite spots under dense vegetation, but they can make a lot of noise as they “thrash” through the leaf litter as they forage for small insects, amphibians, berries, seeds and other food items.

It can be tricky to glimpse a Brown Thrasher in a tangled mass of shrubbery, and once you do you may wonder how such a boldly patterned, gangly bird could stay so hidden. Brown Thrashers wear a somewhat severe expression thanks to their heavy, slightly downcurved bill and staring yellow eyes, and they are the only thrasher species east of Texas.

Mating Habits

Brown thrashers are monogamous birds and form pairs, but mate-switching does occur, at times during the same season. Their breeding season varies by region. In the southeastern United States, the breeding months begin in February and March. Around this time of the year, the males are usually at their most active, singing loudly to attract potential mates, and are found on top of perches. I have noticed quite a few in the trees this February since I became aware of this behavior to attract a mate, having always though that they were mostly spotted on the ground in shrubby areas. The courting ritual involves the exchanging of probable nesting material. The nest is built twiggy, lined with grass, leaves, and other forms of dead vegetation. The nests are typically built in a dense shrub or low in a tree, usually up to 6.9 ft high, but maybe located as high as 20 ft. Brown thrashers also on occasion build their nests on the ground. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs, that usually appear with a blueish or greenish tint along with reddish-brown spots. Between 11 to 14 days, the eggs hatch. They are protective of their territory and will attack perceived predators and drive them out of the area. Both males and females help incubate the eggs and feed the young. Nestlings sometimes leave the nest fully feathered within nine days of hatching—earlier than either of their smaller relatives, the Northern Mockingbird and Gray Catbird. Shrubby habitats are popular hideouts for nest predators, which may explain why the thrashers fledge so quickly for birds of their size.

Make sure to watch for these beautiful remarkable, but somewhat overlooked birds during this time of year.

They particularly seem to enjoy taking a bath, and I have even seen a group of probably every Thrasher within ear shot( I counted 10 of these amazing birds) help rid my yard of a 4’ long rat snake. Surrounding it and making a Chak Chak sound while fanning their wings to herd it away from the area. They were successful!

Some fun facts:

  • The Brown Thrasher is the State bird of Georgia
  • Brown Thrashers are the largest common host of parasitic Brown-headed Cowbirds. The thrashers do put up some resistance, often rejecting cowbird eggs that are laid in their nests. It is considered a short-distance migrant, but two individuals have been recorded in Europe: one in England and another in Germany.
  • The oldest Brown Thrasher on record was at least 10 years, 11 months old. It was found in Florida in 1978 where it was banded in 1967.

Submitted by: Jennifer Jerome


Brown Thrasher on Wikipedia -

Cavitt, John F. and Carola A. Haas. (2014). Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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