June 26, 2015
By: Kathy Kinsey
Have you ever cleaned up one of your flower beds only to walk back out there to see it back in the very mess you just spent half the day cleaning up? I can’t begin to tell you the messes I have seen in my garden after these birds have finished with it… And though I do not have chickens at this time, I feel these birds are setting the stage for what I may experience should I get chickens! I think I had better rethink that idea for now….though chickens would give me eggs…but still….
The brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) is the state bird of Georgia, but they nest in my garden year after year and why wouldn’t they – there are birdbaths in every port, lots of shrubs for them to nest in and naturally mulched beds that are just perfect for hunting bugs – I would consider it prime real estate! But you just gotta love this bird…they eat bugs…sure they make a real mess in doing so…but they are quiet, no loud singing at six in the morning, no unruliness and I find they are quite a striking bird to boot.
The brown thrasher is in the Passeriformes order as is the mockingbird and belongs to the family Mimidae which also includes the new world catbirds and the mockingbird. The catbird reference comes from their ability to mimic meowing cats! Yep! It is a rather large bird, too. The adults measure in at 9 – 12” long, average weight is 2.4 ounces with a wingspan of up to 13” which is smaller than a blue jay and slightly larger than a mockingbird. And they are rather long lived – 11 years 11 months – one was captured and then re-released by a Florida banding station, no date given – and I could find no mention of one in captivity, but really, they belong in the wild. It has been called a brown thrush by many though the thrasher is not in the thrush family. The misconception comes about because the word thrasher is believed to have derived from the word thrush.
There are two brown thrashers – T. rufum rufum – our thrasher – resides in the eastern half of the United States and Canada while the western brown T. rufum longicauda – calls the central United States, east of the Rocky Mountains and southern and central Canada home. The western has a more cinnamon upper part, whiter wing bars and darker breast spots. Any zoom lens should bring that into focus for you…..
The brown thrasher is an omnivore with a menu that consists of items such as insects, berries, nuts, seeds, lizards and frog, all of which I have. But during the breeding season, which is February to March, their diet will mainly consist of beetles, grasshoppers, fruits and nuts. Then in late summer, they shift to being more of an herbivore – fruits, nuts and grains. By winter, they are down to fruits and acorns. I now see why they nest in my yard for I truly have their menu covered all year. This bird can sing, too – it is noted it has over 1,000 (some studies say 3,000) song types in its repertoire – the largest one – with each note usually repeated in two to three phrases. Who studies this stuff? Should the brown thrasher migrate – it will do so only at night.
Considered to be highly territorial, instances have been noted where they have actually attacked humans if they get too close to the nesting area of which can be found in woodlands, thickets, dense brush, agricultural areas and have been seen suburban areas. Both take part in building the nest and it is only after the nest is complete they will mate. I think that is rather commendable of him, but then she is probably making sure he is going to be a worthy mate! The female then lays 3 -5 eggs, bluish or greenish along with reddish brown spots, though in some instances, no spots have been visible. Both incubate the eggs and feed the young but the female does most of the incubating. Then in about 9 – 13 days, they will fledge. I will tell you I have never come under attack by this bird as I was just recently all over the plant they were nesting in! But maybe these two were themselves hatched in this yard so they know I am no threat to them or their young. Brown thrashers are monogamous during the breeding season. There is nothing that reports they mate for life. As with some other birds, the males and females are similar in color so the larger of the two would be the males. Honestly, they both look to be alike in every aspect! But, the males are the first to arrive in your yard, if that helps.
The elusive but beautiful brown thrasher – a bird that has truly learned to live off the land and one I hope to see for years to come nesting right here in my garden.
Kathy Kinsey is a Master Gardener volunteer with the UF/Leon County Cooperative Extension Office. You may also email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov with any gardening questions you may have.