Beak of the Week – Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)

Family: Mimidae

By Carrie Chapin, Houston Audubon Conservation Technician

The songs and calls of the brown thrasher are some of the most delightful and confusing sounds to be heard in forests and hedgerows. The brown thrasher is a medium-sized, rusty-brown-backed songbird with black streaks on the breast and flanks, a black stripe down each side of the throat, white underparts, and yellow eyes. Unlike the similar long-billed thrasher found in southern Texas, brown thrashers have brighter rusty plumage and a straighter bill with only a slight downcurve. Their long yet stout body shape is reminiscent of northern mockingbirds and gray catbirds in the same family. 

Be careful when listening to bird calls near the woods! The brown thrasher is one of the best vocal mimics of other birds, with over 1,100 song types. Given the variety of noises the brown thrasher can make, the best way to identify their calls is to listen for harsh noises only made two at a time: “plant a seed, plant a seed, bury it, bury it, cover it up, cover it up.” In contrast, northern mockingbirds often make noises in sets of three or more, and gray catbirds make sweeter, more chaotic noises and don’t generally repeat them in sets. 

Brown thrashers are the only thrasher east of Texas. They eat insects, fruits, seeds, nuts, and small vertebrates foraged from shrubs and leaf litter. Nesting is usually in a low tree or thorny shrub but may also be on the ground. The nest can be made of twigs, bark, leaves, or long pieces of grass and has an internal diameter of about 3.5 inches. 2-6 eggs are produced in May, and after 10 days of incubation and 11 days of feeding by both parents, the young leave the nest. 

Brown thrashers are a common sight in Smith Oaks and Boy Scout Woods Sanctuaries in High Island so come on out to see them sometime soon!

 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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