My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Brown Thrasher, Toxostoma rufum

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Brown Thrasher, Toxostoma rufum

Often heard, seldom seen, many people never realize that the constant singing coming from a dense thicket is just one bird. Brown Thrashers are noted for their mimicry (as a member of the family Mimidae), but they are not as diverse in this category as their relative the Northern Mockingbird. However, during the breeding season, the mimicking ability of the male is at its best display, impersonating sounds from Tufted titmice, Northern Cardinals, Wood thrushes, Northern flickers, among other species.

The Brown Thrasher is a bird in the family Mimidae, which also includes the New World catbirds and mockingbirds. The dispersal of the Brown Thrasher is abundant throughout the eastern and central United States, southern and central Canada, and is the only thrasher to live primarily east of the Rockies and central Texas. It is the state bird of Georgia.

As a member of the genus Toxostoma, the bird is a large-sized thrasher. It has brown upper parts with a white under part with dark streaks. Because of this, it is often confused with the smaller Wood Thrush, among other species. The Brown Thrasher is noted for having over 1000 song types, and the largest song repertoire of birds. However, each note is usually repeated in two or three phrases.

The Brown Thrasher is an omnivore, with its diet ranging from insects to fruits and nuts. The usual nesting areas are shrubs, small trees, or at times on ground level. Brown Thrashers are generally inconspicuous but territorial birds, especially when defending their nests, and will attack species as large as humans.

The Brown Thrasher resides in various habitats. It prefers to live in woodland edges, thickets and dense brush, often searching for food in dry leaves on the ground. It can also inhabit areas that are agricultural and near suburban areas, but is less likely to live near housing than other bird species. The Brown Thrasher often vies for habitat and potential nesting grounds with other birds, which is usually initiated by the males.

The Brown Thrasher has been observed either solo or in pairs. The Brown Thrasher is usually an elusive bird, and maintains its evasiveness with low-level flying. When it feels bothered, it usually hides into thickets and gives cackling calls. Thrashers spend most of their time on ground level or near it. When seen, it is commonly the males that are singing from unadorned branches. The Brown Thrasher has been noted for having an aggressive behavior, and is a staunch defender of its nest. However, the name does not come from attacking perceived threats, but is believed to have come from the thrashing sound the bird makes when digging through ground debris. It is also thought that the name comes from the thrashing sound that is made while it is smashing large insects to kill and eventually eat.

This bird is omnivorous, which has a diet that includes insects, berries, nuts and seeds, as well as earthworms, snails, and sometimes lizards and frogs. During the breeding season, the diet consists primarily of beetles, grasshoppers, and other arthropods, and fruits, nuts and seeds. By the late summer, it begins to shift towards more of a herbivore diet, focusing on fruits, nuts, seeds, and grains. By winter, the customary diet of the Brown Thrasher is fruit and acorns. It has also been noted for its flexibility in catching quick insects, as the amount of vertebrae in its neck exceeds giraffes and camels.

The male Brown Thrasher has the largest song repertoire of any North American bird, which has been documented at least over 1,100. Some sources state that it has up to 3,000 song chants, while others stated beyond 3,000. The males’ singing voice usually contains more of a melodic tone than that of the related Grey catbird. Its song are coherent phrases that are iterated no more than three times, but has been done for minutes at a time. By the fall, the male sings with smoother sub-songs.

On to my photos:

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrashers

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown thrasher

Brown thrasher

This is number 98 in my photo life list, only 252 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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4 responses

  1. Now i’m wondering how many times I’ve heard this bird and thought it was something else.

    May 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

    • Probably quite a few times, as it still happens to me, but not as often as with catbirds. Thrashers generally repeat each snippet of other bird’s songs three times, then move on to the next, repeat that three times, and so it goes.

      May 27, 2013 at 9:02 pm

  2. One of my favorite, most elusive birds. Wonderful captures!

    May 25, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    • Thanks, Emily!

      May 27, 2013 at 9:02 pm