The Brown Thrasher, Toxostoma rufum, is a handsome, warm, cinnamon-brown bird, almost a foot long, with a boldly streaked breast and distinctive long tail. With its two small white wing bars and down-curved bill, it should not be confused with the Wood Thrush. The Brown Thrasher is member of the Mimidae (Mimics) family, along with the familiar Northern Mockingbird and Gray Catbird. It’s often found in dense brush, searching for insects as it tosses leaves aside with its long, curved bill, and will eat berries, fruits and nuts as well. The male is an enthusiastic singer of musical phrases with over 1100 individual songs, and will often sing from a conspicuous perch. Thrashers often imitate other birds, but can easily distinguish the Thrasher song from it’s fellow mimics’ songs because the Brown Thrasher repeats each phrase twice, with the Mockingbird repeating three or more times and the Catbird only once.
The Brown Thrasher is a year-round resident of the southeastern U.S. and both sexes build the nest in low, thorny shrubs or trees. Twigs serve as a base for a cup built of dry leaves, small twigs and pieces of bark, with a lining of rootlets. Eggs are a glossy, pale greenish-blue with many small brown speckles. The nest will contain a clutch of 2-6 eggs with both male and female incubating the eggs and feeding the young. After a 2-week incubation, the young remain in the nest for about 10 days after hatching. Thrashers will frequently have a second brood after the young are fledged, and may find a new mate for the second nesting.
Although Brown Thrashers are common backyard birds, in the last fifty years their numbers have declined by about 40%. As forests regrow and houses are built in former fields, the Thrashers’ preferred shrubby habitat is diminished. Their global breeding population is about 4.9 million, and 100% of this North American native spend some part of the year in the United States.
To create a bird-friendly yard for the Brown Thrasher, remember that the Thrasher is a bird which loves to skulk around. Rather than working an open lawn area as a Robin might, the Brown Thrasher looks for dense bushes, shrubs, thorny tangles and edges. Choose multi-stemmed shrubs that produce berries, such as the American beauty berry (Callicarpa americana), the Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillate) or native blueberries (Vaccinium arboretum). Try larval host plants like the Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) or a Wild lndigo (Baptisia spp.). A brush pile will also be attractive to Thrashers, since they can search for insects while remaining hidden from view.