Photo Credit: Bill Horn
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Toxostoma rufum
DESCRIPTION: The brown thrasher belongs to the order Passeriformes, birds that have feet well adapted for perching, with three toes in front and one long toe behind. It is in the family Mimidae, which includes thrashers and mockingbirds. Members of this bird family sing loudly from conspicuous perches, imitating other bird songs. While mockingbirds repeat phrases many times, the brown thrasher usually emits the song twice. They have the largest song repertoire of all North American birds, with up to 3,000 catalogued sounds.
The brown thrasher has a long tail, short wings, and a slender, somewhat curved bill. It is a rich rufous brown on its head, back, and tail, with heavy rufous streaking on a cream color underside. The wings are rufous brown with two white bars on each wing. It has yellow eyes. Adults are about 11.5 inches in length.
DISTRIBUTION: The brown thrasher’s breeding range is from the Rocky Mountains and central Texas eastward to the Atlantic coast and from southern Canada south to the Gulf coast. It is a partial migrant, with northern birds wintering in the southern United States.
HABITAT: The brown thrasher is adapted to brushy habitats, brushy woods margins, and residential areas with shrubbery. It’s long rudder-like tail and short wings are adapted to maneuver within brushy cover.
FEEDING HABITS: The brown thrasher is omnivorous, eating insects, earthworms, snails, berries, nuts, and seeds. The bird often searches for food in dry leaves on the ground, and can be heard underneath the brush rattling and moving leaf litter with its bill.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: The brown thrasher is a secretive bird, preferring to stay within the brush most of the time. However, in breeding season, the male likes to sing from the tip-top branch of a tree to defend its territory, and it will aggressively defend a nest. The nest is built in low, dense brush or low in a tree, although some nest on the ground in the western part of the range. Both male and female construct the nest. The female lays three to five eggs in a cup-shaped twig nest lined with grass. Both parents incubate eggs and feed the young. Eggs hatch in 11 to 14 days, and the young fledge 9 to 13 days after hatching. As with other passerines, brown thrashers practice scrupulous nest sanitation. The fecal sacs of young are carried away from the nest site after the young are fed. The pair may raise two or three broods a year, nesting from late March through July.
Although the brown thrasher is widespread and common, it has declined in numbers due to loss of suitable brushy habitat.
Welty, J. C. 1975. The Life of Birds. W. B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, PA, 623pp.
Robbins, C. S., B. Bruun, and H. S. Zim. 1966. Birds of North America. Golden Press, New York, NY, 340 pp.
AUTHOR: Stan Stewart, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, September 2006