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home : birding w/don reimer : birding w/don reimer
January 29, 2020

3/2/2011 2:13:00 PM
Brown Thrasher -
A Brown Thrasher photographed last month in Rockport  Photos by Don Reimer
A Brown Thrasher photographed last month in Rockport Photos by Don Reimer
A Brown Thrasher nest
A Brown Thrasher nest
by Don Reimer

In truth, I am surprised to be writing about a local Brown Thrasher in the month of March. Actually, the bird in question was discovered in a Rockport sumac patch on February 18! This lively third member of the "mimic thrush" family, which includes the Northern Mockingbird and the Gray Catbird, typically arrives in Maine between mid-April (in scattered numbers) and May.

The Brown Thrasher is a fairly large, rufous-colored songbird with a long tail and black streaking along the whitish breast and flanks. The thrasher's deep yellow eyes give it a stately and regal appearance. Spending the majority of its time foraging on the ground, the thrasher has a down-curved bill that's used to probe and toss leaf litter in search of insects, nuts or fallen fruits; hence, the term thrasher is an appropriate name for this active species. Other foods include snakes, frogs and lizards in the southern part of the range.

As you may gather from viewing my vague photograph, the Brown Thrasher is often a skulky creature that finds creative ways to limit its public appearances. They prefer bushy open country with tangled thorny cover, such as blackberry vines or thick banks of multi-flora rose. A bulky nest of twigs, rootlets, grasses and leaves is built on or near the ground in dense foliage.

If successful, the thrasher couple usually produces two broods each nesting season. Chances of nestling survival are enhanced because both parents actively feed and protect the young. Although the formidable pair can be aggressive and protective around the nest site, they occasionally fall victim to the parasitic egg-laying tactics of the Brown-headed Cowbird.

The Brown Thrasher is a champion singer that is credited with one of the widest song repertoires of any North American bird. During spring courtship, the male will sit on an exposed perch to serenade his surrounding breeding territory. The rich alternating spring song is given in paired or tripled phrases. Sitting in close proximity to his mate in tight cover, the male may sing low, whispered songs to his partner.

Henry David Thoreau wrote: "the Massachusetts farmers, when planting their seed, always think they hear the thrasher say, "Drop it, drop it - cover it up, cover it up - pull it up, pull it up, pull it up." In The Singing Life of Birds, Donald E. Kroodsma describes a Brown Thrasher that in one two-hour session sang 4,654 songs, 1,800 of them different (many borrowed from neighbors of other species).

Let's get back to our Rockport thrasher. With high snow banks all around, temperatures in the teens and limited food sources available, what was this February lurker really thinking? Although Brown Thrashers winter within the continental U.S., winter sightings north of Massachusetts are uncommon. After gaining a snap photo of the jittery bird, I spied a "pre-owned" thrasher nest directly across the roadway - possibly a remnant structure from last summer.

We know that there are distinct advantages to arriving early on the nesting grounds. Early arrival on the nesting grounds often means less competition for prime nesting territories. Premature arrival could mean a gamble between increased breeding success and mere survival itself.

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011
Article comment by: Charlie

Submit your bird sightings to and contribute to citizen science, great resource for birders to share and organize their sightings for fun and to aid conservation efforts.

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