It’s been a banner year for brown thrashers at my home. In recent weeks, these large songbirds have provided plenty of entertainment by bringing their young to the feeders. They especially like the suet feeder. The parent birds work to detach chunks of suet. Once they secure these morsels, the parents feed their hungry young.
A few years ago, quite by accident, I came across a brown thrasher nest. I hadn’t gone looking for it. The nest, expertly woven into a thicket of honeysuckle vines, was tucked beneath a sheltering eave of an outdoor storage building. I don’t think anything but a fortunate accident could have ever revealed the nest. I still remember peeking into that tangle of vines and seeing a golden eye staring back. The bird didn’t look in the least pleased that I had accidentally stumbled across her nest.
The otherwise extroverted brown thrasher, which prefers to nest in difficult-to-access, tangled messes, found the cluster of vines a perfect location. I haven’t discovered any thrasher nests this year, but I’ve observed several fledglings when they began visiting the feeders with their parents. For those not familiar with brown thrashers — relatives of the Northern mockingbird — they are known for their feisty and fearless protection of their nest and young.
The brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) belongs to the family of “mimic thrushes,” which provides a label for a group of songbirds capable of imitating the songs of other birds. Mimidae, the Latin root for “mimic,” provides the scientific name for the family, which includes mockingbirds and the New World catbirds, as well as thrashers. The Northern mockingbird is best known for the ability to mimic, but relatives like the gray catbird and brown thrasher are also talented mimics.
The thrasher is a fairly large songbird about 11.5 inches long with a wingspan of 13 inches. Much of the body length comes from the bird’s long tail feathers. A thrasher weighs, however, only about 2.5 ounces.
The brown thrasher is not a picky eater. It’s known to eat everything from berries and nuts to insects and small lizards. It’s also aggressive in defending its nest and young. John James Audubon, a French-American ornithologist, naturalist and painter, painted quite a dramatic scene of a group of brown thrashers valiantly defending a nest from an attacking snake. The painting is so detailed that you have to imagine Audubon based his work on a real-life experience. His work, originally painted in the early decades of the 1800s, still holds up today.
Incidentally, Audubon knew the brown thrasher as the “ferruginous thrush.” Another former common name for this species was “brown thrush.”
This brown thrasher breeds across the United States and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. Thrashers withdraw from the northern part of their range in the winter months, spending the season in the southeastern United States.
They are familiar birds in southern gardens. In fact, the brown thrasher is the official state bird of Georgia and also provided the name for Atlanta’s National Hockey League team, the Atlanta Thrashers. The thrasher became Georgia’s state bird due to passage of a Joint Resolution of the Georgia General Assembly in 1970.
The brown thrasher is the only member of the thrasher clan in the eastern United States. In Texas and the western half of the country, however, there are several other species of thrasher, including sage thrasher, long-billed thrasher, Crissal thrasher, curve-billed thrasher, Bendire’s thrasher, California thrasher and Le Conte’s thrasher. Many of these thrashers also occur in Mexico.
These New World birds also occur in the Caribbean, including such species as White-breasted Thrasher, Pearly-eyed Thrasher and Scaly-breasted Thrasher.
Rebecca Howe, who resides in Kent, Ohio, has sent me an email.
“I am blessed to have rose-breasted grosbeaks come to my house each spring,” she wrote. “I watch males arrive first and then females.”
She has recently been seeing young birds arriving at her feeding station.
“Now the birds seem to be leaving,” she noted. “Do they leave their breeding grounds around this time to move south for the winter?”
I thanked Rebecca for sharing about her rose-breasted grosbeak observations in a follow-up email and informed her that different birds depart at different times to go south for the winter. Some birds do not get into a rush to reach their destination, so the start of migration is more of a slow-paced, casual “wandering” that takes them to different locations in a more or less southern direction.
Closer to Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee, birds like yellow warbler, Louisiana waterthrush and a few others are known to depart as early as July and August. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are another good example of slow migrants. Those that pushed to the northern limit of their range are probably already heading back. But they are very nomadic. Maybe they could even be described as “restless,” and it is this time of year when I start to get the highest numbers of these little birds.
I look forward to hearing from readers. Those who wish to ask a question, share an observation or make a comment may reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Facebook to see more bird and nature photos at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler